Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad hopes more Chinese companies will invest in his country and more business cooperation between the two countries will drive economic growth, he said during a speech to local entrepreneurs on Sunday in Beijing.
Mahathir said he holds a very positive attitude toward the Belt and Road Initiative, emphasizing that Malaysia will maintain a friendly and cooperative relationship with China, and welcome Chinese businesses to invest in the Southeast Asian nation.
He said his new government will improve the efficiency of administrative approvals and introduce preferential policies for Chinese enterprises that want to expand their presence in Malaysia.
Jack Ma, executive chairman of Chinese e-commerce behemoth Alibaba Group, said it was Mahathir's Multimedia Super Corridor, an initiative to transform Malaysia into a knowledge-based economy, that inspired him to create Alibaba about 20 years ago.
"Malaysia has become an important economic and trade partner of China. In the ever-expanding bilateral trade and economic cooperation, both sides should join hands to enter the digital economy era, which is a great opportunity for enterprises from both countries," Ma said.
Mahathir visited China seven times during his first tenure as prime minister from 1981-2003.
He kicked off his five-day official visit to China on Friday. On Saturday, the 93-year-old leader toured Alibaba's headquarters in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, and told Ma that his country wants to explore ways to collaborate further with Alibaba.
Chinese technology companies are expanding in Malaysia, bringing in such know-how as mobile payment systems and e-wallet services. In January, Alibaba Cloud, Alibaba's cloud computing arm, joined up with government-owned Malaysia Digital Economy Corp to create a smart city powered by artificial intelligence and big data.
Last year, Alibaba launched its first Electronic World Trade Platform hub in Malaysia, aiming to provide small and medium-sized enterprises with the same infrastructure as larger companies to better conduct global trade.
Bilateral trade between China and Malaysia reached $96 billion last year, a year-on-year increase of 10.5 percent. China's cumulative direct investment in Malaysia amounted to around $5.1 billion by the end of 2017, according to the Ministry of Commerce.
"Apart from traditional cooperation in infrastructure, Malaysia hopes to follow China's rapid development in high-tech sectors such as e-commerce, artificial intelligence and big data, so as to upgrade traditional industries and enhance its innovation capacity," said Zhou Fangye, a researcher of Southeast Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Zhou said the shift will not only consolidate trade between the two countries, but also stimulate mutual investment in more sectors, including finance, science and technology, and agriculture.
China has been Malaysia's largest trading partner for nine consecutive years.