Returnee Ch'ng toils to make IDR the venue for Asia Pacific's biggest trade and expo hub
By Zoe Phoon
One of his ambitious plans was to put up the biggest trade centre in Tampines , Singapore , when he was with the Emporium Department Stores and Supermarkets group in the 1980s. That didn't materialize, but Bill C.P. Ch'ng did not give up.
Still working to spur greater inter-commerce and inter-trade, Ch'ng's Malaysia Pacific Corp Bhd (MPCorp), in which he and his family acquired majority control in 2006, now wants to build the Asia Pacific Trade and Expo Centre (Aptec) at the Iskandar Development Region (IDR) in Johor.
And at an estimated four million square feet, Aptec will likely be the region's biggest.
“MPCorp's proposal to build Aptec in IDR is an example of a contemplated collaborative partnership between Malaysia , Singapore and China . Aptec will create new opportunities and Challenges in developing new entrepreneurs and skills in the supply chain business in the country, Singapore and in the region.
“IDR can become another metropolis, like Shenzhen, by 2020. Singapore 's international financial network, whose back-of-the-house facilities can be relocated to IDR, can also serve the Northern Corridor Economic Region (NCER) and East Coast Economic Region (ECER) in more collaborative partnerships,” he said.
With IDR so close to Singapore , Ch'ng added, working expatriates and the large contingent of foreign workers and executives at the two international resorts in the island republic can, for instance, take residence at more affordable accommodations in IDR and thereby lower their operational costs of doing business in Singapore . This is happening in Macau, where the working expats and foreign workers are housed in the nearby border city of Zhuhai in mainland China.
The MPCorp president and CEO continued: “We need to cooperate and exploit together in collaborative partnerships in order to have the extra size to aim at the regiona market of Southeast Asia , which has a reported combined population of 800 million people.
“Competition for investments is very intense. Gone are the days of the closed door policies of China , India , Vietnam and other Asian countries, when we could dictate our terms and conditions. Today, we're competing with these countries even with Indonesia, which offer better advantages of size and large population, cheaper land and labour costs, as well as their large domestic markets to sustain businesses.”
But that's only the tip of the iceberg of what Ch'ng aims to do. Aptec will be a component of the estimated RM6 billion LakeHill Resort in Nusa Damai in IDR, which will include Wetlands Ssantuary Park , LakeHill City , LakeHill Regency, Village Resort & Heritage Centre and LakeHill International School.
“We need to think hard to build collaborative partnerships in light of global competition for foreign direct investments. Imagine what IDR-Singapore will be like, if we've a similar type of collaborative partnership arrangement as Shenzhen-Hong Kong's. It'll replicate Shenzhen-Hong Kong's success story, an economic phenomenon that benefits each other,” he said of his dual role as a local-cum-foreign investor.
Fast backward to the 1960s, the Australia-trained architect was pioneer architect/planner and a founding shareholder of the Genting Highlands Casino Hill Resort, starting from the application for land, for the casino licence and for the listing on Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange (now Bursa Malaysia), all from 1965 till he resigned in 1972 “for personal reasons” and kept the copyright of his original resort masterplan.
In the 1970s, he was chairman of PRC Engineering ( Malaysia ) Sdn Bhd, one of the world's largest engineering firms then and a consultant to the United States 's National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (Nasa) first space shuttle programme, the Colombia Space Shuttle.
From 1982, he ventured into property development, construction, retail, hotels and financial services in Malaysia , Singapore , Hong Kong and China . He was at different periods chairman or CEO of Q-Built System Sdn Bhd, IHD Holdings Ltd Hk, Telequote Malaysia Sdn Bhd, Sheraton-Imperial Hotel Sdn Bhd, Emporium Department Stores and Supermarkets Singapore Ltd, Boustead plc London and Buosteadco Singapore Ltd.
Ch'ng was a contractor for affordable housing projects, using his patented Q-Built rapid housing system in Malaysia and Singapore , until the recession hit and projects were held back.
He then “looked elsewhere” and resided in Hong Kong for 21 years, from 1984 to 2005, when MPCorp's then substantial shareholder Hong Leong Group invited him as advisor to revamp MPCorp, and subsequently made him its CEO.
Between 1983 and 1989, he was invited to advise on planning and foreign joint ventures in China . He secured the first financial package of US$2 billion for China for the Daya Bay nuclear power project in Guangdong in 1984. He fast tracked and built two oil-fired power plants in Xiamen and Fuzhou in 1984 and 1985, on design-build-finance contracts.
He was also instrumental in paving closer political and economic ties between China and Malaysia in 1985, when Wisma Putra appointed him to liaise directly with the Chinese government to arrange the first official visit of our former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to China that year.
Having spent a good part of his corporate life abroad, Ch'ng's views may come across as controversial at times, such as his suggested “sacrifices we've to make if IDR wants to become an international city”.
He related how it took him one dot of ink on a white tablecloth, the “dot” representing Shanghai's size and the tablecloth China's, to change nation's policy, at a dinner party in 1987 that was hosted by the Shanghai mayor and party secretary.
“I explained that even if all of Shanghai was given to foreign investors to develop, it's only a fraction of an area of China 's size, and China needn't fear the loss of that piece of land because the land and the buildings on it could never be carted away by the foreigners when they leave. The leaders must think of the huge foreign exchange earnings and increase in asset wealth if land could be sold to foreigners.
“In 1988, China announced the first experiment on land reform, and the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone was chosen as the first city to implement it. For the first time, locals and foreigners were allowed to own land in Shenzhen on 50-year leases, and soon after, this law was extended to Shanghai and other cities.
“I believe Malaysia can be as successful and dynamic as China if we're brave enough to make that big step to liberalise and very certain portions of our New Economic Policy (NEP) to achieve global competitiveness so that the Malaysian property market becomes more attractive to invest in, but still keep our national objectives of eradicating poverty and restructuring of society.”
He truly understands the NEP, he said. He was among a group of Malaysian selected after the May 13 racial riots in 1969 to brainstorm the causes of the incident, and how to prevent another, which the county's leaders fined-tuned. What then emerged was the NEP.