Axco's researcher travelled to Malaysia last month and penned these thoughts on developments in the country:
As the world’s centre of gravity moves East, travelling to Asia for me feels like a window into tomorrow. I am in Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur, or translated - Muddy Confluence (of the Klang and the Gombak rivers). The airport, like so many in Asia, is modern, clean and efficient as is the air-conditioned train whisking travellers through the palm plantations to the city centre. A curious navigation with luggage through a glitzy shopping centre finds the monorail to weave its way above ground to my hotel in the upscale shopping area of Bukit Bintang.
Malaysia is a peninsula country wedged between Thailand to the north and Singapore at its southern toe. All Asian nations and indeed the world, however, must contend with the 800-pound gorilla in their back yard...China. And it is China’s remarkable emergence that looms large, with its intercontinental Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) front and centre. Multiple infrastructure projects seek to reinvigorate trade along the ancient Silk Roads for a new age and lift more out of poverty for the mostly under-developed nations along its course. A further sea route is building ports through Asia and Africa and into Europe.
Malaysia stands to be a significant beneficiary of BRI. A railway cut down its eastern seaboard and then dissecting the country across its centre to connect with Port Klang on the west coast promises a major economic boost for this aspiring advanced nation. The new Malaysian prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamed however, was unimpressed. He feared it was a Chinese initiative to dominate the world. On being re-elected in May 2018 at the tender age of 93 he promptly called a halt to the work, much to the displeasure of the Chinese. Following an April visit to Beijing and a 30% cut in the price (plus increased exports of palm oil to China after the EU cut its imports on reported sustainability concerns), the East Coast railway project is back on. The extent of China’s concessions perhaps reflects the significance of the shipping lanes of the Straits of Malacca to Chinese supply lines. In spite of his advanced years, Dr Mahathir lacks nothing for energy and is seeking to put the country back on track after years of alleged corruption, with the 1MDB Malaysian development fund scandal making headlines worldwide. In the meantime, his predecessor, Najib Razak, has been languishing in a courtroom trying to explain how MYR 1.9bn (USD 458mn) landed in his personal bank account.
As I write the majority of ethnic Malays have begun observing the holy month of Ramadan. It is an exercise in self-restraint that is a wonder to me. How can anyone possibly get through a working day from sunrise to sunset without eating or drinking in this brutally hot country? It is the country’s economic progress, however, together with its Muslim tradition that has shaped its determination to be a world-leading Islamic financial centre. It has the leading family takaful market, which is growing faster than conventional premium and has Munich Re and Swiss Re basing their global retakaful operations from Kuala Lumpur. While operational challenges remain, family takaful is “still small but is a huge market” asserts an independent financial adviser confidently and it is backed by a government set on delivering it.