The growing business and trade opportunities of China’s ‘belt-road’ have had many groups scrambling to get noticed.
CHINA’S well-promoted “One-belt, One-road” (belt-road) regional economic initiative that promises abundant business and trade opportunities has brought about unintended chaos and tension among local groups linked to China trade.
Over the past several months, at least four new local organisations were set up with objectives to do business with China and to tap into belt-road opportunities.
Malaysia-China Belt-Road Chamber of Commerce, set up three months ago and headed by former MCA president Tan Sri Ong Tee Keat, is one such non-governmental organisation. The other is Asean-China Chamber, which was set up last September by Hua Zong’s former president Tan Sri Lim Gait Tong.
The overlapping functions and objectives of these new NGOs and existing Chinese chambers in Malaysia are reportedly causing confusion to officials and businessmen from China as they are unsure which organisations are authentic, reliable and representative.
Each is now battling for attention from the republic.
Meeting of minds: Bong (seated, right) receiving a high-level business delegation headed by Yeoh Kian How (seated, left) from the China-Malaysia Qinzhou Industrial Park, a project mooted by the governments of China and Malaysia in 2011.
Previously, Chinese guilds and chambers had complained of having to entertain too many delegations from China. But they are too happy to embrace them now, with China actively implementing its belt-road programmes.
The belt-road initiative, first announced in 2013 by President Xi Jinping, will see China’s corporations and their foreign partners building roads, railway lines, ports and power grids badly needed in many parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. It will also facilitate its own industries to invest and broaden its market in these countries, and vice versa.
The belt-road economic strategy covers 65 countries populated by 4.4 billion people. It is projected that infrastructure development alone will bring in investment of US$160bil (RM624bil) and China’s annual trade volume with belt-road countries, among which is Malaysia, will exceed US$2.5 trillion (RM9.75 trillion) in a decade or so.
Among the local existing organisations that are battling keenly for attention from China are the influential Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia (ACCCIM) and smaller Malaysia-China Chamber of Commerce (MCCC).
Both are established business NGOs in the Chinese community. While ACCCIM represents all Chinese state chambers in Malaysia, MCCC groups traders and investors who do business with China.
These two NGOs have overlapping membership and their leaders used to work closely, but not anymore.
This is mainly because MCCC has refused to bow to pressure to alter its Chinese abbreviated name, which sounded quite similar to ACCCIM’s short-form in Chinese.
ACCCIM, which is raising its profile as the leading apex Chinese business NGO in Malaysia, argues that China’s important agencies have often mistaken MCCC for ACCCIM due to the adoption of abbreviated names.
It is learnt that leaders of both groups had recently held lunch talks to resolve this “name” issue but there was no outcome. Meanwhile, they have gone to the press to present their arguments.
Good read: Bong reading an issue of the Malaysia-China Business Magazine which has a circulation of 10,000 and is given free to members and authorities in China.
Datuk Bong Hon Liong, president of MCCC, says in an agitated tone: “Do you change your name if others tell you to do so? MCCC’s name was endorsed by our members. We started using our abbreviated name earlier than ACCCIM’s. Can I then agree to change our name just to please ACCCIM, just because they are a bigger group?”
“We are a specialist body with many members dealing with China trade since the 1960s. We have played a very important role in promoting bilateral trade and investments. All major government agencies in China know us. And in recognition of our contributions, I was invited to be Malaysia’s sole observer at China’s two most political meetings last year,” Bong tells Sunday Star.
This year, China’s government invited Datuk Ter Liong Yap, the president of ACCCIM, to its two meetings that deliberated and endorsed major policy decisions for the Middle Kingdom.
Bong believes that beneath the current squabble over a “trivial” issue is the battle for quanxi (relationships) with influential Chinese officials, as well as vast business and investment opportunities seen in belt-road economic programmes.
There have been cases that leaders and active members of Chinese guilds were awarded lucrative projects in the past. The most recent example is a one billion yuan (RM604mil) desert-greening project awarded to a company jointly owned by MCCC vice-presidents Datuk Lim Heng Ee and Ngan Teng Ye.
“China is huge and opportunities offered by the belt-road are aplenty. We are no threat to anybody. Each organisation can do what it wants,” states Bong at the MCCC office in Fraser Business Park, Kuala Lumpur.
However, MCCC is also in the limelight now due to its coming tri-annual election on June 26. It is widely known that the authorities from China and Malaysia hope the new leader will be a non-controversial person with a clean background.
For this, MCCC is facing a dilemma. While it does not want outsiders to interfere in its election, the views of the authorities cannot be ignored.
At issue is that one of the potential candidates for the MCCC presidency is a businessman who had spoken up against China on the massacre of pro-democracy students in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, and those opposing him have kept reminding members of his background.
Bong, who has led MCCC for two terms totalling six years, has to step down after the June polls due to a restriction in the constitution.
The election is expected to be a heated affair. Most potential candidates had voiced their desire to contest as early as last June. To boost support, many new members have been brought in. As a result, the MCCC membership has shot up by 600 to about 2,000 now, from 1,400 last June.
“It is a good thing that people are watching us and showing concern for our coming election. This shows that MCCC is important and we must have done a lot of good work for the community and two countries,” quips Bong.
Indeed, MCCC’s most visible contribution to bilateral trade is its yearly painstaking organisation of business delegations to attend Canton trade fairs in Spring and Autumn. This is where many start-ups in China trade make their “first barrel of gold”.
During the tenure of Bong, who has textile and garment factories and property developments in China since the 1980s, MCCC opened up its membership and saw influx of Malay and Indian entrepreneurs keen to do business with China. There are now 200 of them in MCCC.
In a two-hour interview, the 68-year-old business management graduate of the now-defunct Ngee Ann College of Singapore also talked about issues linked to bilateral trade with China and the South China Sea dispute:
> What have been your notable achievements during these six years as a leader of MCCC?
In my first year, I revived the investment seminars started by the late Tan Sri Ngan Ching Wen when he was president. Instead of a one-off event, I made this into an annual affair. The sixth Malaysia-China Economic Conference this year, to be attended by 2,000 people, will be held in Chengdu in November. Participation from Asean nations is expected.
We have also successfully attracted the non-Chinese to be our members. Currently, there are 200 of them. We are aiming to get more so that they will form 30% of our total membership. MCCC wants to be a truly multi-racial organisation.
Two years ago, we began to actively mobilise Malay and Indian small and medium enterprises to join us to attend Canton trade fairs and other expositions.
Every year, we organise about 50 trade and investment delegations to China. Every month, we receive 20 delegations from the Chinese government and private sector.
We have also started working closely with MCA to organise 100 belt-road roadshows to help people understand the opportunities available. Up till now, we have conducted over 60 roadshows.
We have published various books on belt-road. We have also published a major commemorative coffee table book and held a series of seminars to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the establishment of Malaysia-China ties.
Our well-known quarterly Malaysia-China Business Magazine, which carries topical issues on Malaysia and China, has a circulation of 10,000 and is given free to members and authorities in China.
Due to the close attention paid to policy decisions and developments, issues linked to China are at our finger-tips and many of us are China experts.
Last year, I was invited to be Malaysia’s sole representative at China’s “two meetings”. I was also one of the speakers at the function.
> What can we expect your successor to be like?
The new leader should love Malaysia and embrace China. He must have genuine sentiment towards these two countries. He must also be well-versed with issues and policies of these two countries so that he can play his leadership role well.
For the past six years, I have put aside my business to focus on MCCC work but this type of devotion is not easy to match. However, people who are not prepared to devote time and energy to make contributions to the chamber should take a break from this coming chamber election.
At the moment, I am staying neutral in the election. I am aware of the talk that I was supporting one candidate, but this is not true. I am leaving the decision to the wisdom of our members.
(Tan Yew Sin, who controls INTI Universal Holdings Bhd, is one of the potential candidates. The other two vice-presidents vying for the top post are Datuk Lim Heng Ye of Global Green Synergy and Liew Choon Kong of Kong Wooi Fong Tea Merchants Sdn Bhd.)
> Do you see MCCC as facing challenges in terms of selecting the right leader?
Yes, indeed. All pioneers of China trade and founders of the chamber have either retired or are gone. We harbour special sentiment towards China as this country had helped us prosper. I go to China 40 to 50 times a year on business or chamber work.
However, the old giving way to the young is a natural progression. In Chinese, we say new tides in Yangtze River will push away old tides. As an out-going leader, I have to accept this reality.
If the new leader is weak and not capable, there will be adverse impact on the chamber. And if a leader is not devoted, it can also spell trouble. It means that in time to come, other organisations with similar objectives will shine and rise above us; and we stand still, MCCC may lose its current status and fall into oblivion.
> Are you aware that officials outside are following developments in MCCC election?
Via unofficial channels, we have been informed of their wishes to have a non-controversial leader. But it is all up to our members to decide.
It is a good sign that people have high expectations of us. It means we must have played our role very well and we must have done a lot of good work to deserve such high level attention.
If nobody pays attention to an organisation, it means that it is insignificant. It is an achievement on our part if others are showering attention to us.
> What are the prospects of Malaysia-China bilateral trade and investments?
Bright, as long as Malaysia maintains a close relationship with China and welcomes Chinese investments in its bid to improve its economy.
China will continue to march forward in expanding trade with Malaysia and other nations, and pouring investments into countries along the belt-road route. In Malaysia, they are making good their promise to buy our government bonds and implement their planned investments this year.
But due to the current economic slowdown in Malaysia and China, the shared goal to achieve total bilateral trade of US$160bil (RM624bil) by 2017 may have to be pushed back to 2020. (In 2015, total bilateral trade was slightly under US$100bil (RM390bil).
The impact of Chinese investments in Bandar Malaysia, Malacca, Kuantan and East Malaysia could only be felt later. Both the governments and people will have to work hard to achieve this goal.
> What is your view on current China?
China’s administration is carrying out four strategies: pushing for economic transformation and targeting an average annual income of US$10,000 (RM39,000) per person; improving its legal system to emphasise the rule of law; eradicating poverty; and wiping out corruption.
The catch here is that China dares to tackle poverty and corruption. Jack Ma (of Alibaba Group) has said that there is future in China because its leaders are bold enough to implement policy decisions on these two thorny issues that many other countries shun away.
My view is: once more Chinese nationals get richer, domestic demand will soar and China will have to import more goods and services to cater for their needs. This will benefit all its trade partners, including Malaysia. Indeed, there are many Malaysians setting up legal and accounting firms in China now.
> Do you think the current tension in the South China Sea will explode into a full-scale war?
I don’t think so. It seems to me all super powers do not wish to go to war.
History has shown that China is a peace-loving nation. It has always kept to its long-cherished principles of peaceful co-existence.
China has stated it will not fire the first shot. And I believe in its stand. But if others do so to the extent of undermining China’s sovereignty, China will have to react to defend itself.
However, the chances of an outbreak of war are slim, unless the United States and Japan play tough in this region.
Now that China is a stronger nation in defence and has become the world’s second largest economy, it will not stand idle to allow other countries to bully it like what had happened in the past.
It is understandable that it wants to exert its influence via economic expansion and penetration now.
SOURCE:- THE STAR