Robert Kuok’s memoir continues to stir debate

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PETALING JAYA: The most-talked about book in the past month, “Robert Kuok, A Memoir”, has not only enthralled lucky readers who managed to lay their hands on a copy but also stirred a debate among politicians and industry players.

While some commended author Robert Kuok, Malaysia’s richest man and one of Asia’s top tycoons for the views expressed in the 376-page book, others have questioned his loyalty to Malaysia and other assertions.

Among other things, Kuok, popularly known as the “Sugar King” had written that he had moved his business headquarters to Hong Kong from Kuala Lumpur in 1975 because of lower taxes in Hong Kong and his disdain for the New Economic Policy implemented after the May 13 riots.

While some praised him for being a shrewd businessman, others criticised his sale of some businesses in Malaysia.

“Chinese Malaysians are proud to have a Robert Kuok among us, but he should have also invested more and help create more job opportunities for the people here.

“He should also take note that Malaysia has progressed economically since 1971 and our leaders are able to ensure that May 13 is not repeated,” the Sunday Star quoted president of the Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia (Huazong) Pheng Yin Huah as saying.

The newspaper also quoted another businessman, who declined to be named, as saying: “He made tonnes of money from sugar and rice monopoly for five decades here.

“By scaling down, he is sending a wrong signal to investors. He should be happy to operate with lower margin, after making huge profits in earlier years.”

Some had also questioned Kuok’s loyalty after he transferred his headquarters to Hong Kong and ventured into mainland China where he was one of the early investors who helped to develop the republic’s economy.

However, in his memoir, Kuok said he played an “intermediary role” in ending communist insurgency in Malaysia by passing messages between Malaysia and China in the 1980s.

“It is fair to say that Malaysia regards me as the Malaysian with the best contacts in China.

“Because of my connections on both sides, I was called upon several times to act as a conduit between the two governments,” he wrote.

Kuok’s loyalty to the country could also be seen in the contributions that he said he made to Barisan Nasional and MCA “especially when it comes to election time”.

Kuok also gave money to support projects in Malaysia. Two years ago, he donated RM100mil to Xiamen University Malaysia.

“During my meetings with Mr Kuok to raise funds for Huazong’s building, I could feel his heart is truly with Malaysia. His topics of conversation centred on Malaysia,” Pheng told Sunday Star.

Kuok’s political insight and revelations also earned him brickbats from some.

In his memoir, he had said: “Since May 13, the Malay leadership has had one simple philosophy: Malays need handicapping.

“I have seen a picture developing all along of a train moving in the wrong direction.

“The train of the nation had been put on the wrong track. (Third Prime Minister) Hussein Onn wasn’t strong enough to lift up the train and set it down on the right track.”

Kuok’s “wrong track” remark was slammed by Umno supreme council member Bung Moktar Radin, who said it was “unfair” for the world’s 54th richest man to criticise the country which had nurtured him.

Bung argued that the government had to help Malays to prevent animosity among the ethnic groups.

“We are on the right track. That’s why Malaysia is sustaining until today,” he was quoted as saying in media reports.

Bung suggested that Kuok return to Malaysia as he had an “obligation” to help in the country’s development.

Kuok’s narration on the setting up of Malaysian International Shipping Corporation (MISC), now controlled by the government, also attracted some criticism.

In his memoir, it was clear that Kuok set up the shipping firm in 1968 mainly to meet his needs to import and export sugar, wheat and flour, as well as other commodities.

Admitting he “knew nothing about shipping”, he attributed the success of MISC to his shipping magnate business partner, MISC’s deputy chairman in the early days, Frank Tsao.

But a former prominent stockbroker Chua Ma Yu, disagrees.

“The success story of MISC is because of Petronas’ long term LNG carrier contracts. It started with five and now there are many more,” the Sunday Star quoted Chua, who is chairman of CMY Capital, as saying.

Meanwhile principal adviser of Pacific Research Centre (Malaysia) Oh Ei Sun said that Kuok’s memoir reflected to a large extent the predicament of many Chinese businesses in Malaysia.

“But they are unable to articulate for fear of losing opportunities.”

With so much interest in Kuok’s book, it is little wonder that it had sold out even before it was launched in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. Jakarta will see the launch of the book on Jan 1.

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