Mahathir's visit to China starts in tech hub Hangzhou

His first trip to China after taking office seen as a move to reset ties

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad behind the wheel of a Geely sedan during his visit to Hangzhou yesterday. Geely owns 49.9 per cent of Malaysian carmaker Proton.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad behind the wheel of a Geely sedan during his visit to Hangzhou yesterday. Geely owns 49.9 per cent of Malaysian carmaker Proton.PHOTO: BERNAMA

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.

Tun 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 (S$27.4 billion) East Coast Rail Link 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", Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.

Dr Mahathir chose to begin his trip in Hangzhou where he visited top e-commerce group Alibaba yesterday and 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 said he hoped Malaysia could benefit from the tech giant's platform to market its products to the world.

Malaysian news agency Bernama reported that Dr Mahathir told Mr Ma that "we would like to tap your idea of modern technology so that it can benefit Malaysians".

The Malaysian leader also shared his own experience of how online sales 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.

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

Alibaba opened its first South-east Asian office in Malaysia in June this year and a regional logistics hub near Kuala Lumpur International Airport in November last year.

After Alibaba, Dr Mahathir visited Geely, 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," said Geely's founder and chief executive Li Shufu 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, Reuters reported.

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 left for Beijing yesterday. He is scheduled to meet Malaysian businessmen today.

Tomorrow, he will meet Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and other Chinese leaders. He is likely discuss with them difficult issues such as the infrastructure projects, as well as the expansion of business and other ties.

Dr Mahathir is accompanied by his wife and several ministers on the trip.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 19, 2018, with the headline 'Mahathir's visit to China starts in tech hub Hangzhou'. Print Edition | Subscribe