Malaysia’s tech scene set to soar with surge in investments by tech giants

Malaysia’s recent efforts to steer ahead in technology and tech investments appears to show great promise. Or am I being prematurely optimistic?

fter all, many ills still ail us. For one, Malaysia’s abysmal standing in the latest press freedom index – dropping from 73rd place last year to 107th place this year – is disheartening. There’s an argument to be made for the fact that a nation without freedom of speech isn’t a true democracy.

But the tide does seem to be turning for the better on one front – technology. Specifically, big tech investment and involvement in Malaysia. The newest high-profile entrant is Microsoft, which has vowed to invest a whopping RM10.5 billion in Malaysia.

And this is merely the latest in a string of investment wins for Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. Let’s look at a few of them:

1. Tesla

In order to woo Tesla, the government exempted it from the long- standing policy of foreign companies needing at least 30% Bumiputera ownership to set up shop here. Import tariffs – long a bane for foreign automakers and a boon for local ones – were removed for all Tesla cars.

Anwar’s rationale was sound. In his own words: “To me, (the Tesla deal) is as good as putting a 30% equity. In fact, in terms of real advantage returns to the economy — that is better.”

Thanks to this, the base Tesla Model 3 can be purchased for RM181,000 – an ultra-competitive price for one of the safest and technology-packed cars in the world. Malaysians are clearly responding well to the pricing, with the Model Y hitting 10,000 pre-orders in four days.

2. Nvidia

A stunning announcement followed the recent meeting between Jensen Huang, the CEO of Nvidia, and Anwar in Putrajaya.

Malaysian giant YTL is partnering with Nvidia – the world’s foremost graphics processing unit (GPU) design company – to build Malaysia’s first artificial intelligence cloud data centre. This upcoming Johor-based instalment will house one of the world’s fastest supercomputers, powered by Nvidia’s brand new Blackwell GPUs.

The YTL-Nvidia partnership will see a huge investment of RM20 billion in Malaysia.

In the words of Huang: “Nvidia is working with YTL AI Cloud to bring a world-class accelerated computing platform to Southeast Asia – helping drive scientific research, innovation and economic growth across the region.”

3. Microsoft

Just a few weeks ago, Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft also visited the prime minister in Putrajaya. Following that meeting, Microsoft pledged to invest RM10.5 billion to build Malaysia’s AI infrastructure – its largest investment in Malaysia to date.

The investment even dwarfed the amount Microsoft is investing in our neighbour Indonesia and will be used in part to upskill 200,000 Malaysians by setting up an AI Centre of Excellence.

4. Google

Earlier this month, investment, trade and industry minister Tengku Zafrul announced that a Google investment in Malaysia is forthcoming. Though he didn’t specify exactly when it will happen or the nature of the investment, he said it would be announced in the near future.

The natural question to ask is, why this surging interest in Malaysia? The answer is multi-faceted. For one, Malaysia has a well-educated, largely English-speaking population – something many of our neighbours lack. Plus, our electronics and semiconductor manufacturing industries are world-class and have a multi-decade history of excellence, which means we do have a pool of talent with experience and the ability to learn.

And to its credit, the current Malaysian government has done a good job of projecting an image of being politically stable, which is important for investors.

In addition, it has shown itself to be tech-forward and business friendly. This was best exemplified by Anwar sending off Microsoft’s Nadella at his car after their meeting.

To my knowledge, such hospitality is reserved for leaders of nation states, not tech CEOs. This treatment rubbed many netizens the wrong way, with some quipping on X (formerly Twitter) that the prime minister was kowtowing to corporate interests and that he was a big business sell-out.

This is an outdated and short-sighted view.

Tech companies such as Microsoft, Apple, Meta and Amazon – which operate in dozens of countries and have hundreds of millions of users – are vastly more influential than most nations today.

Their CEOs, accordingly, are vastly more important than the leaders of most nations, bar a select few. So it’s only natural that the leaders of these digital fiefdoms be courted and cajoled into investing in Malaysia – something the current leadership is cognizant of.

On a geopolitical view, Southeast Asian countries are fertile ground for tech giants that want to diversify out of the US and China – two saturated and relatively stagnant markets. Southeast Asian countries are developing at a faster clip than most others and if these tech giants set up operations here in a meaningful way now, they can tap into this rapidly growing market.

This shifting geopolitical situation has opened up a window of opportunity for Malaysia. Let’s grab it by the horns and become a tech powerhouse in our own right.

Source: Free Malaysia Today 

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