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Monday January 25, 2010

Looking to the Middle East

newsdesk@thestar.com.my

PETALING JAYA: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s recent tour of two countries in the Middle East reinforces the importance of the region to Malaysia in terms of business as well as cultural, spiritual and even personal bonds.

Much interest: Najib looking at an illustration of the Burj Khalifah in Dubai recently. — Bernama

Saudi Arabia and especially the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been targeted by Malaysia as major sources of investments and both countries have already put significant amounts of money here. At the same time, many Malaysian companies have made inroads into the two countries, especially in the UAE where they are involved in construction projects.

Yet, in line with Najib’s constant reminders of the dangers of businesses resting on their laurels, there is no letting up in the push to attract more business to Malaysia and to open up further avenues for Malaysian companies in the region.

Najib’s three days in Abu Dhabi, the largest of the seven emirates in the UAE, and side trip to Dubai gave him the opportunity to savour the successes of Malaysian companies in the country.

He witnessed the handing over of seven residential towers in the massive Marina Square project on Reem Island in Abu Dhabi constructed by Malaysian companies after visiting the Capitala Rihan Heights-Arzanah development, which forms part of the Zayed Sports City complex in Abu Dhabi, where a Malaysian construction company is involved in a joint-venture project to build residential units.

His visit to Dubai, which he made after delivering his keynote address at the World Future Energy Summit, underscored even more clearly how well Malaysians were doing, both individual businesses and big companies in mega or iconic projects.

The Prime Minister took the time to drop by the Marrybrown outlet in Dubai to celebrate the Malaysian chain’s presence in the Middle East after visiting the Meydan racetrack complex where a Malaysian company had supplied steel structures for the massive project.

Najib’s visit to the Burj Khalifah, the world’s tallest building, looked very much like he was doing the tourist thing. But in his mind was a multi-million dollar contract for the maintenance of the building, which a Malaysian company that also handled the maintenance of the Petronas Twin Towers is eyeing.

“If they’re successful in their bid, it would be a significant achievement,” he said later at a press conference.

In terms of investments into Malaysia, Najib saw the signing of the US$100mil (RM339mil) agreement between 1Malaysia Development Bhd and UAE’s Masdar, the company behind the development of the world’s first carbon-neutral city. The deal was for both companies to explore and develop renewable energy and green projects, including the possible development of Malaysia’s first carbon-neutral city.

Najib’s audience with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, General Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan, also secured a commitment by the emirate’s investment arm Mubadala Development Company to invest in Malaysia. Sheikh Mohammad is Mubadala chairman.

Preceding Najib’s visit to the UAE was his tour of Saudi Arabia, the region’s powerhouse. The visit generated a lot of interest and was widely covered by the Saudi press, highlighting the close relations between Malaysia and the kingdom which had reached historic heights under Najib’s administration.

The Prime Minister quickly noted that Saudi Arabia’s US$144bil (RM489bil) budget for 2010 should translate into attractive possibilities for Malaysian companies to be involved in the kingdom’s economic activities and other fields. In 2008, Malaysia ranked the 13th largest foreign investor in Saudi Arabia.

During the visit, a memorandum of understanding between Malaysia and Saudi Arabia was signed for the exchange of intelligence on crime and terrorism, where the two countries agreed to co-operate to fight terrorism, drug trafficking, falsifying of documents and cross-border crimes.

On the final day of his visit, Najib was conferred Saudi Arabia’s highest award – the King Abdul Aziz Order of Merit (First Class). Najib attributed this not so much to his own abilities but the exemplary behaviour of the thousands of Malaysian pilgrims performing the haj every year.

Besides business deals, Najib’s trip to the Middle East also gave him the opportunity to reflect on Malaysia’s situation in terms of race relations and human capital development.

As a good example of his 1Malaysia concept, Najib pointed to the 6,000 Malaysians in the UAE. “Malaysians of every race and religion are represented here and all of them have done well in giving Malaysia a good name,” he said.

After his visit to the King Abdullah University of Science Technology near Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Najib said the Saudis were brave enough to set up the university, which was controversial, as it did not follow the strict sex segregation laws of the country and brought in a Singaporean professor to head the institution.

“Are we brave enough to go for such transformation? Are we ready to let a foreigner head a public university in Malaysia?” he asked.

Najib said the two countries had the vision, boldness, courage and the commitment to deliver and execute projects in a very fast and timely manner, all of which were important ingredients.

“We can’t be inward-looking, we can’t be petty, and we can’t be envious of one another. If we do not change the attitude and the mindset of Malaysians, we’ll never be a 21st century nation.”

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