Eyeing Belt and Road business

Malaysia’s over 4,000 Chinese clan associations are invigorated by the investment opportunities under China’s regional economic initiative.

CHINA’S Belt and Road initiative that promises projects worth US$1 trillion (RM4.2 trillion) has thrown the local Chinese community into “chaos”. Many new chambers of commerce with names linked to China and Belt and Road have mushroomed in the past one year to vie for the once-in-a lifetime business opportunities.

Mooted in 2013, the Belt and Road plan to beef up regional connectivity, boost cross-border trade and investments covers 65 countries in Asia, Middle East and Europe.

With its strategic position in South-East Asia, Malaysia is set to capture RM400bil worth of infrastructure projects, according to Citi Research.

To impress mainland Chinese seeking business partners, it would be more acceptable if one is a leader of a Chinese association or a member of a prominent organisation.

Tan Sri Lim Soon Peng, who co-founded Malaysia Lin Chamber of Commerce, says setting up a chamber of commerce would make it “easier” when dealing with similar groups in China.

“It gives us an identity. Besides, China authorities are placing more emphasis on chambers of commerce,” he tells Sunday Star.

Among the pioneer groups formed to vie for Belt and Road projects are the China-Asean Business Association (headed by Farlim Group Bhd’s Tan Sri Lim Gait Tong) and the Malaysia China Silk Road Business Chamber.

Others include the Lau Clan Chamber of Commerce, Malaysia Guangxi Chamber of Commerce and Malaysia-Xiamen Chamber of Commerce.

“From what we know, there will be more than 20 chambers of commerce coming out soon,” says Datuk Lim Jia Ngee, president of the Malaysia Lin Chamber of Commerce.

However, the emergence of these groups is causing unease among the existing associations, as some of the names are quite similar to the established ones.

This has caused confusion to the locals as well as the mainland Chinese. Mistaken identity has been a key complaint.

More importantly, these new chambers with different leaders are seen as competitors in the quest for Belt and Road opportunities.

The recent spat between two community leaders and property players – Gait Tong and Soon Peng – underscores the friction caused by this intense competition.

Though the tension between the two Lims has been simmering for some time, it flared up openly last month. (In Chinese characters, both Lin and Lim are the same surname.)

Gait Tong is the honorary chairman of World’s Lin Association (WLA) while Soon Peng is the president of the World Lin Chamber of Commerce (WLCC). At a major event of the Federation of Malaysian Lim Associations (FMLA), Gait Tong revealed that his WLA would not recognise the existence of WLCC founded by Soon Peng and Jia Ngee as well as Lims from other nations.

All three were leaders of FMLA before. According to Chinese media reports, Soon Peng was accused by Gait Tong of harbouring a personal agenda in forming WLCC.

Soon Peng, he claims, was undermining unity among the Lims. But the current president of FMLA, Tan Sri Lim Hock San, did not seem to give Gait Tong backing.

He stated that everybody had the right to set up an association.

“We cannot control others. But personally, I think joining the Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia (ACCCIM) would be a better option as it is the most prominent business association in Malaysia,” he says.

The feud between the two corporate figures is threatening to end up in court.

However, there are reports that Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik – the adviser of FMLA – has been invited to be the mediator to end the war of words among the Lims.

In the history of clans, the Lims are known to have produced the highest number of outstanding Mandarins in Imperial China. They were respected families as they stipulated strict rules on conduct.

Dr Ling, whose surname is of the same Chinese character with Lim and Lin, was a former president of MCA. Due to his past positions, Dr Ling is held in high esteem among his clan members.

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