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AEI-Huawei Roundtable Discussion

On the 16th of March 2021, Asia-Europe Institute (AEI) organized a roundtable forum to examine critical economic developments taking place in Malaysia amid the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on national economic recovery. The panelists were Datuk Michael Kang Hua Keong, Dato’ Abdul Latif Bin Hj. Abu Seman, Dr. Sumitra Nair and Dr. Nungsari Ahmad Radhi. It was moderated by Distinguished Professor Dato Dr. Rajah Rasiah. Due to ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, the event was held both physically and virtually via Microsoft Teams. 

The forum was first prefaced by opening remarks by Mr Oliver Liu, Vice Chancellor of HUAWEI ASEAN Academy and Prof. Dr. Low Wah Yun, Deputy Executive Director (Research & Internationalisation) of the Asia-Europe Institute, Universiti Malaya. After which, Dr. Rajah initiated proceedings by first asking the panellists their takes on how government initiatives such as the 12th Malaysia plan, Industry 4.0 masterplan and digitalisation blueprint have affected the 2021 and 2022 national budgets. 

To that, Dato’ Abdul Latif remarked that regulations which enable the implementation of such blueprints must be facilitative. Citing the tourism sector, he provided examples of how pre-Covid-19 rules must be updated to reflect post-Covid-19 business norms especially since businesses are suffering from issues such as cashflow problems. Echoing these sentiments, Datuk Michael Kang further stressed the importance in reducing bureaucratic red tape as SMEs clamour to receive aid and grants from the government, especially as they attempt to digitalise. Providing a birds-eye perspective, Dr. Nungsari attributed such issues to the country’s inability to bridge the gap between our collective aspirations and the reality on the ground. As a result, the economy has been increasingly domesticated, and this has negatively impacted the national economy in many ways. Speaking from the point of view of a regulator, Dr Sumitra highlighted business resilience and digitalisation as the key drivers to bring SMEs out of the pandemic induced economic rut. As such, she also stressed the importance of building on the momentum to further enhance and digitalise the economy in the longer run. 

Building on the viewpoints offered by the panellists, Dr Rajah then moved the conversation along by highlighting the need for a clear plan which affords the country a profound appraisal of these plans and blueprints. Juxtaposing that with the duality of fiscal discipline – as espoused by the IMF, World Bank, and ratings agencies – and expansionary fiscal policy which would help address the economic malaise caused by the pandemic, Dr Rajah requested the panel to give their thoughts on the matter.

Dato’ Abdul Latif underscored the significance of execution to the implementation of nationwide blueprints. He remarked that while there is often a fervour surrounding new blueprints, the government should first take stock at the ones currently at our disposal and do an evidenced-based review before moving forward. On a more positive note, Dr Sumitra emphasised the government’s current digitalisation efforts – especially in e-commerce – which has helped uplift many businesses from the negative externalities of the pandemic. Dr. Nungsari further reiterated his point on economic domestication by supporting digitalisation so as to open up new market for Malaysian businesses. He says that Malaysian companies have to move on and even take the lead with or without help from the government. Nevertheless, Datuk Michael Kang aired a word of caution that any government support in digitalisation must reflect demands and grouses from the ground. He lauded private sector involvement in rebuilding the economy and bringing in investments and further reinforced remarks by Dr. Nungsari that digitalisation should lead to a bigger market for Malaysian businesses.

Dr Rajah then shifted focus to the support provided to firms as they take the leap towards Industry 4.0. He raised a crucial point that current government policy requires firms to be digitally prepared before qualifying for support, opining instead that the government should start by subsidizing firms at their digital primacy in order to get them digitally ready. He also stressed that the onus should be on the government to reach out to civil society and SMEs and engage them in order to get more participants to take the digital leap. Having said that, he segued into the question-and-answer session. 

Question and Answer Section

1.    What Huawei can do for the smartphone industry in Malaysia?

Dr. Nungsari pointed to work which has already been underway (not by Huawei) to build a platform where all other digital platforms can come together – linking the demand and supply sides. This serves as a “platform of platforms.” Dr Rajah added that this would also ensure collective efficiency to get smaller players to cooperate in the use of shared assets. Dr Nungsari then – using the example of farming – that meteorological data is available but is inaccessible to the farmers. Therefore, in the work he had done, they linked the meteorological data with the digital platform which helped farmers better gauge weather conditions. 

Closing statements

In closing, Dr. Nungsari called for there to be more continuity in government policy and going back to the basics if need be. This does not however mean that Malaysia fails to stand at the frontier, but that a more measured approach to policymaking should be adopted. Dr Sumitra highlighted the importance of staying resilient and promoting wider digitalisation to enable greater resilience. She also stressed the importance of public-private partnership to in achieving these goals. Datuk Michael Kang reiterated the view for there to be better execution and delivery of blueprints and masterplans. He also called on the private sector to take the lead while the government plays its role as the facilitator. Dato’ Abdul Latif surmised his views into several key focus areas including talent, technology, incentive structure (tied to productivity), regulatory environment and a mindset change. To achieve this, he says that Malaysia must learn from other countries and continue to be data driven in our approach.


Event name AEI-Huawei Roundtable Discussion: Post COVID-19 National Economic Recovery
Moderator Distinguished Professor Dato Dr. Rajah Rasiah
Speakers Datuk Michael Kang Hua Keong
Dato’ Abdul Latif Bin Hj. Abu Seman
Dr. Sumitra Nair
Dr. Nungsari Ahmad Radhi
MC Mr. Alexander Lourdes
Organized by Asia-Europe Institute (AEI)
Venue Integra Tower, Jalan Tun Razak, KL (Huawei Technologies (Malaysia)
Platform Hybrid (Online Webinar Zoom)
Date & Time 29 Nov 2021 (Monday) 8:00 am - 1.00 pm MYT
Report by Mr. Angaindrankumar a/l Gnanasagaran, PhD Student, AEI, UM

Last Update: 12/01/2022