M'sia-China trade reset with Kuok’s guanxi economics

Opinion  |  Bob Teoh
Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, is set to fly to Beijing after appointing his new special envoy to China but the man behind the scenes is surely Robert Kuok, a formidable exponent of “guanxi” economics, hand-picked by Mahathir himself to be on his Council of Eminent Persons (CEP).

Kuok, 94, made a grand entrance to Kuala Lumpur after flying in from Hong Kong, where he is currently living. He was welcomed by old buddy, former finance minister and tycoon Daim Zainuddin, 80, as CEP chair. Both were locked in an embrace reminiscent of an old boy reunion and cameras flashed away furiously.

That’s the enduring guanxi bond between the two; characterised by their penchant to be tight-lipped in public. Both have been given the task to help reset Malaysia’s trade relations with China. The delay in Mahathir’s visit to China may indicate the difficulty in setting the agenda for renegotiating the dubious deals inked by ousted prime minister Najib Abdul Razak.

Kuok, one year older than Mahathir, was named as one of the five members in the new CEP, three days after Pakatan Harapan toppled the BN government on May 9, 2018, the first ever government change in Malaysia’s history.

The others are former Bank Negara Governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz and   former Petronas chairperson Hassan Marican, who both were previously removed by Najib, as well as noted economics professor Jomo Kwame Sundaram.

Following Kuok's first CEP meeting, Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia Bai Tian met with him on the future of China-Malaysia cooperation. Neither men said anything unscripted. The Chinese embassy issued this statement: “During the one-and-a-half-hour meeting, Bai Tian spoke highly of Kuok’s contribution to the development of Malaysia and also on the progress of China-Malaysia relations.”

That’s how Beijing views Kuok....

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