Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Malaysia PM Mahathir Mohamad talk tech, jobs and future as China deals come under scrutiny

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Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Malaysia PM Mahathir Mohamad talk tech, jobs and future as China deals come under scrutiny

KUALA LUMPUR (18 June 2018): Alibaba Group’s efforts to undertake an intensive transfer of technology and skills to Malaysia are aligned with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s hopes for the Southeast Asia economy to transit into high-income status quickly, the Chinese conglomerate’s co-founder Jack Ma said on Monday.

Ma was speaking to the media after a meeting with Mahathir in Kuala Lumpur – the first by a Chinese entrepreneur since the country’s landmark election on May 9 in which the veteran politician had been critical about investments from the mainland that had not brought jobs to the country.

Mahathir won the election decisively and is back in power for a second tenure as prime minister.

The Alibaba executive chairman said the 92-year-old leader expressed hopes that the company would employ more Malaysians in high-technology jobs.

“He [Mahathir] does not want Malaysia to be a low-end manufacturing [base] … like an outsourced assembly line,” Ma said after the meeting at Mahathir’s office in Putrajaya.

“He wants to have research centres, creative centres and this is what we believe,” Ma said.

“We think globalisation in the next 30 years is about enabling, it is not about selling.”

Alibaba Group, the owner of the South China Morning Post, operates a digital free trade hub in Kuala Lumpur – a bricks-and-mortar warehouse backed by artificial intelligence that coordinates e-commerce in Southeast Asia.

In an exclusive interview with the Post, Mahathir said Ma had told him the Chinese company was eager to help Malaysia with efforts to introduce cutting edge technology to its schools and help local businesses in areas such as cloud computing.

Ma, in Kuala Lumpur for the opening of Alibaba’s new country office in Malaysia, its first in Southeast Asia, said his visit helped him take the pulse of the country and its new leaders.

Ma’s visit follows Malaysia’s tense election in which the role of heavy Chinese investment to the country came under scrutiny.

Some critics had charged that the ousted former prime minister Najib Razak had “sold off” Malaysia by being too lax in the standard of Chinese investment approved during his tenure.

Mahathir, in particular, has been critical of Chinese-backed infrastructure projects that he says do not bring jobs to Malaysia and are too expensive.

Ma said ties between Chinese companies and key markets like Malaysia were “like a marriage” where both sides needed to constantly work at keeping a good relationship.

Chinese companies must create value and jobs and respect local practices, while countries must realise that ultimately China represents one of the world’s largest consumer markets, Ma said.

Oh Ei Sun, a prominent observer of China-Malaysia ties, said comments by Mahathir and Ma showed the newly sworn-in government would continue to warmly welcome investments that are of the “jobs-creating and skills-transferring variety”.

“Mahathir bears no malice towards Chinese investment in general. He just feels that investment should be of his described variety, and free of irregularities.”

Ma, who also met with Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng and Chinese ambassador Bai Tian, will depart Malaysia later Monday.

[Source: “Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Malaysia PM Mahathir Mohamad talk tech, jobs and future as China deals come under scrutiny” published by The Edge Communications Sdn. Bhd.]
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