Seminar on “Updates on China’s Investments in Three ASEAN Economies: Cambodia, Indonesia and Malaysia”

This seminar provides an overall update on China’s investment activities in Cambodia, Indonesia, and Malaysia. It attempts to provide comparisons on specific projects, namely industrial park and rail developments in each country. It also examines the main challenges and prospects for these projects.

Regional Economic Studies Programme Seminar

Wednesday, 26 February 2020 – ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute organised a seminar on “Updates on China’s investments in three ASEAN economies: Cambodia, Indonesia, and Malaysia”, delivered by Dr Chheang Vannarith, Dr Siwage Dharma Negara and Dr Tham Siew Yean. Dr Chheang Vannarith is the President of the Asian Vision Institute (AVI) and Chairman of the Advisory Council of the National Assembly of Cambodia; Dr Siwage Dharma Negara is Senior Fellow, Co-Coordinator of the Indonesia Studies Programme and Coordinator for the Singapore APEC Study Centre at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute; Dr Tham Siew Yean is Visiting Senior Fellow at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore and Professor Emeritus, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

From left to right: Dr Tham Siew Yean, focussing on Malaysia; Dr Geoffrey Pakiam, moderator of the session; Dr Siwage Dharma Negara, focussing on Indonesia; and Dr Chheang Vannarith, focussing on Cambodia. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

First, Dr Chheang Vannarith began his presentation by sharing Cambodia’s bilateral relations with China since 1997. He discussed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Community of Shared Future (CSF) as well as the Cambodia-China Free Trade Agreement (FTA). He then focused on three major BRI projects — Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone, Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway and New Siem Reap International Airport. He also suggested possible opportunities and risks associated with these projects.

Next, Dr Siwage Dharma Negara started his presentation by giving an overview of China’s investment activities in Indonesia. He identified that China is Indonesia’s third-largest source of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) during the first term of President Joko Widodo’s administration (2014-19). China’s FDI share has increased rapidly since 2016. He then provided updates on three specific projects — Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway, Morowali Industrial Park and Galang Batang Special Economic Zone. He also shared Indonesia’s investment strategy such as national development plan, omnibus laws, and new institutional setup in the current administration.

Second, Dr Tham Siew Yean commenced her presentation by providing some statistics on overall inflows of China’s Investments into Malaysia as well as approved manufacturing investments in Malaysia. She then gave updates on Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park (MCKIP) and East Coast Rail Link (ECRL). For each of these two projects, she highlighted its importance and immediate objectives as well as the challenges that Malaysia could face. 

The seminar concluded with Dr Chheang Vannarith, Dr Siwage Dharma Negara and Dr Tham Siew Yean engaging in a question and answer session, where they shared their views on issues such as the importance of China’s investments in the three ASEAN economies, their employment of foreign labour from China, their similarities and differences in terms of labour skills and industrial capacity, their plans in the area of digital technology and the tangible outcomes from BRI.

The seminar was well-attended. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)