Mahathir begins China visit in tech hub Hangzhou

Dr Mahathir (left) accompanied by Alibaba Group's chairman Jack Ma, visits Alibaba's headquarters in Hangzhou in east China's Zhejiang province, Aug 18, 2018.
Dr Mahathir (left) accompanied by Alibaba Group's chairman Jack Ma, visits Alibaba's headquarters in Hangzhou in east China's Zhejiang province, Aug 18, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING - Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, with economic development on his mind, made a stop at Chinese tech hub Hangzhou on the east coast ahead of a trip to Beijing billed as an attempt to reset Malaysia's ties with China.

Dr Mahathir's new government rattled the relationship after it questioned the viability of and suspended two major infrastructure projects involving the Chinese - the US$20 billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) and two gas pipelines worth US$2.3 billion.

His first visit to China since taking office in May is meant to set new strategic pillars to invigorate future bilateral cooperation, according to the Malaysian Foreign Ministry. China's ambassador to Malaysia Bai Tian called the visit "a chance for China and Malaysia to show the world that we value our bilateral relations and respect each other's core interests and major concerns", as quoted by Chinese news agency Xinhua.

Dr Mahathir, however, chose to begin his trip in Hangzhou where he visited top e-commerce group Alibaba yesterday (Sat) and also dropped by carmaker Geely, which owns 49.9 per cent of Malaysian carmaker Proton.

At Alibaba, where he was hosted by co-founder Jack Ma, Dr Mahathir was duly impressed by the conglomerate's tech prowess and said he hoped Malaysia could benefit from its platform to market its products to the world.

"We like to tap your idea of modern technology so that it can benefit Malaysians," he was quoted as saying by Malaysian news agency Bernama.

He shared his own experience of how online selling can expand a business. His bakery business - which he started after leaving office in 2003 - grew from catering to a small market to reaching 90,000 people after it went online, he said.

It could probably grow its market further through better access to information and data among other things, he added.

Alibaba started its first South-east Asian office in Malaysia in June this year and a regional logistics hub near the Kuala Lumpur international airport in November last year.

 
 
 

After Alibaba, Dr Mahathir went on to visit Geely - whose buying into Malaysian carmaker Proton last year he had lamented - where he witnessed the signing of an agreement to expand Proton's markets overseas, beginning with China.

"The signing of the agreement today will expand our relationship and take our cooperation to the next stage," Geely's founder and chief executive Li Shufu was quoted by Reuters as saying at the signing ceremony.

The deal, among other things, will allow Proton to tap Geely's green-car technology and its basic vehicle platform technologies that the Chinese company had developed jointly with its wholly owned unit Volvo Cars, according to Reuters. Proton hopes to make and sell upgraded cars in international markets with these technologies,.

Dr Mahathir had said last year that while Proton would do well under Geely, he could not be proud of it as it "does not belong to me or my country".

In June, he said that he would like to start another national car with the help of foreign partners.

Dr Mahathir, who arrived in Hangzhou on Friday, left for Beijing yesterday evening where he will meet Malaysian businessmen today (Sun).

Tomorrow (Mon) he will meet Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and other Chinese leaders, with whom he would likely discuss difficult issues like the infrastructure projects but also the furthering of business and other ties.

Dr Mahathir is accompanied by his wife as well as several ministers including those in charge of agriculture, primary industries, trade and entrepreneurship.