MUCH has been said about Belt and Road, a highly ambitious cross-continental and maritime integration plan by China. But how exactly can Malaysia ride the wave of China’s aggressive push?
China has emphasised that the initiative is oriented towards win-win cooperation, not only to achieve domestic economic growth but also to drive development of countries along both routes.
As Chinese Commerce Ministry’s Inter-national Trade and Economic Cooperation Research Institute director Huo Jianguo put it, “The implementation of the Belt and Road depends on the responsiveness of the relevant countries.”
The Malaysian Government has voiced keen interest in being part of the initiative.
In the China-Malaysia Business Dialogue on the Belt and Road organised in the capital of China this week, government officials and industry players from both countries were invited to share their views on how best to collaborate.
Small and medium enterprises (SMEs), e-commerce, halal products, finance, infrastructure and port cooperation were among the key topics discussed in the dialogue co-organised by MCA and the China Economic Cooperation Centre, and officiated by MCA president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai.
Building on the foundation of the current collaboration between Malaysia and China in various sectors, such as a renminbi clearing bank in Malaysia and sister industrial parks, more opportunities can be harnessed to meet the needs of respective countries.
The Belt and Road stresses connectivity between nations, from people-to-people links to transport infrastructure. Railway is heavily promoted by China; Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was even nicknamed “the railway salesman” for actively pushing for Chinese railway systems.
Chinese railway’s global expansion has found its way to Malaysian shores. A recent example is the CRRC Rolling Stock Centre Malaysia in Batu Gajah, a RM400mil manufacturing plant for rail transportation.
For Malaysia, improving the railway system in the country will drive economic development.
Transport Ministry deputy secretary-general Chua Kok Ching said the two important interstate railway projects in the peninsula – Gemas-Johor Baru electrified double-track and the East Coast Rail Link – will link the ports and growth centres in Malaysia.
“Exporters of rubber and rubberwood from southern Thailand can divert their cargo to Kuantan Port or the Port of Tanjung Pelepas in Johor when the new railway routes are ready,” he said.
“This will save them a tremendous amount of time as they do not need to loop around the Straits of Johor.”
On halal products, vast opportunities are available to Malaysia to capture the population of 23 million Muslims in China with the well-recognised halal certification system.
Malaysia Halal Development Authority general manager Mohd Syafulzahni Abd Aziz said Malaysia and China can collaborate for China, with a strong agricultural industry, can supply the products consistently, while Malaysia has the know-how and expertise to ensure that the halal integrity is intact.
The products, after processing and value-adding, can be exported to a global market, he added.
Halal tourism, logistics, Islamic healthcare and financing are other areas to be explored between two countries.
The SMEs are the engine of the economy, representing 98.5% of the total number of firms in Malaysia, and 99% in China.
Without establishing a brick-and-mortar presence out of Malaysia, the SMEs can use e-commerce to expand their businesses in China.
Tian Yuan of Alibaba’s 1688 division said Alibaba aspires to facilitate an online Silk Road.
In 2013, China surpassed the United States in e-retail sales.
A total of 360 million people, roughly a quarter of the nation’s population, are online shoppers in China.
“Our B2B platform is an infrastructure for SMEs to connect to distributors and retailers in China,” Tian said.
“We provide the payment system and logistics. Our credibility enables business operators to do transactions online without seeing each other.”
Liow, in his speech, said Malaysia is ready to unleash its potential and function as a fulcrum in the South-East Asian region.
While complementing each other in the supply and demand chain, Liow said Malaysia will also be benefiting from China’s advanced technology.