PETALING JAYA: A business group has proposed that the government earmarks Johor’s vast land area for the southern state’s special economic zone (SEZ) with neighbouring Singapore.
The One Belt One Road Economic Friendship Association (Obor) said this would give the Johor-Singapore SEZ the edge over its many regional rivals.
Obor secretary-general Chiew Kok Peng said the government should also position itself as an attractive alternative to Singapore to woo Chinese telco investors.
“What makes this SEZ different from Thailand’s Southern Economic Corridor and Indonesia’s Batam Special Economic Zone? What can we offer to the foreign investors?
“Since many Chinese internet-based corporations like TikTok have established their presence in Singapore, why can’t we target the big telcos in industries such as data storage as Johor has enough land?” Chiew told FMT Business.
He was responding to a claim by Johor menteri besar Onn Hafiz Ghazi that Johor has the potential to flourish like China’s Shenzhen if the Johor-Singapore SEZ becomes a reality.
On Sept 14, Onn Hafiz noted that in the four decades after it was made an SEZ, Shenzhen has transformed from a small city with a population of about 300,000 people to a high-tech international metropolis with a population of over 17 million.
However, Chiew pointed out that the government must first solve problems like the traffic congestion on the Johor Causeway to reap the economic benefits of the SEZ.
“Ease of movement between Singapore and Johor Bahru is a must if you want this SEZ to be successful. Otherwise, JB and Singapore will have difficulty reaping economic benefits,” he said.
Johor Indian Business Association (Jiba) president P Sivakumar concurred with Chiew, saying that the “horrendous traffic jams at the causeway” are a “big drawback” for potential investors.
The Johor business leader also pointed out that a stable political environment is essential for the government to achieve its new development target as Johor is already well equipped with decent infrastructure and reliable communication services.
“Perhaps if we stop flip-flopping on our policies in response to threats from the opposition to topple the government, then the foreign investors will come,” Sivakumar told FMT Business.
He also urged the government to focus on creating high-skill jobs that command higher incomes given that Malaysia cannot continue to offer cheap labour.
Oh Ei Sun of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs said entrepreneurial participation, especially those of the small and medium enterprises (SMEs), is essential for the new SEZ to succeed.
“The Shenzhen SEZ is successful because there were eager participants from all over China who made a beeline for the city and in the process developed the economy there.
“But Johor currently lacks entrepreneurial participants, in particular those who are from the SMEs. So if there is similar entrepreneurial eagerness then this new zone can take off,” he added.