Sabah is possibly at the cusp of a great leap in progress provided the right people are engaged, says Datuk Frankie Liew, Founding President of the newly launched Sabah China Chamber of Commerce.

Datuk Frankie Liew is no stranger to Sabah business community having set up many companies and holding many prominent positions in particular those relating to promoting good relationships with China.

As the immediate past president of the MalaysiaChina Chamber of Commerce (Sabah branch) and now its Honorary Adviser, Liew is more than qualified to lead Sabah business people to the next level in their dealings with Chinese investors.

The business veteran who is 66 years old this year and still going strong, has spent years promoting Sabah to investors in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan particularly in the economic and tourism sectors.

In 2016, Liew was appointed as the President of Malaysia-China Chamber of Commerce (Sabah Branch), and also as a National Council Member to Malaysia-China Chamber of Commerce. With the leadership of Liew, MCCC Sabah branch became one of the most active state branches in Malaysia.

In March 2017, Liew led a delegation comprising more than 30 members of MCCC to Wuhan, Guangdong, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Macau and other parts of China. The delegation, led jointly by the Minister of Special Tasks Datuk Seri Panglima Teo Chee Kang, Assistant Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Pang Yuk Ming, Deputy Speaker of the State Legislative Assembly Datuk Dr. Johnson Tee, as well as MCCC Sabah branch advisors, were involved in a series of meetings, business matching sessions and working visits.

The trip also saw the signing of Letter of Intent for cooperation with several business associations and organizations in China.

In the same year in November, the chamber also visited Fujian Province. The chamber also embarked on establishing ties with ASEAN countries and other regions which have close trade relations with China.

In the beginning of 2018, Liew together with some committee members of MCCC Sabah branch founded the Small and Medium Enterprise Association of Sabah – SME Sabah which later appointed him as the Permanent Honorary President.

Sabah China Chamber of Commerce

In February 2019, Liew founded the Sabah China Chamber of Commerce and served as its founding president. The purpose of the association is to enable direct communication with relevant parties in China be they official, private enterprises or business groups so that both sides can have immediate access to first hand information.

Liew also hopes that the platform will assist Chinese investors who are interested to come to Sabah to access accurate information and effective networking with Sabahan business people. This will help save them costs and increase their potential revenue.

The recent July launch of the association saw many VVIPs and VIPs attending including the Sabah Governor, most of the state ministers, Parliamentarians and state assemblymen, as well as all the top business people. The wellattended launch demonstrated that it had strong support from the government which encourages more investments into Sabah.

Liew was in fact approached by the state government’s top level officials to set up such an association to promote good relations with China and to bring in investments into Sabah. Despite his semi-retired lifestyle at the time, Liew decided he had to do his part to help the state. He also believes that his vast experience and strong connections with China will be invaluable to the other business people in Sabah.

In his view, Sabah as demonstrated by the present state leadership takes pride in maintaining its economic independence and self-sufficiency with a long-term vision of achieving higher productivity and income per capital to be on a more equal footing with the rest of the other states in Malaysia. As such, there is a strong will to attract Foreign Direct Investment to the state through their own channels.

With the setting up of the association, Liew plans to aggressively bring Sabah business people overseas especially China in order to build up ties with Chinese business people. While in China sourcing for business opportunities, he will also work hard to bring foreign investments into Sabah.

Liew feels the new Sabah state government has a new vision which he feels is very progressive. “We plan to develop young Sabahan entrepreneurs to explore international business; with the new government, there are a lot of opportunities for young Sabahan entrepreneurs to get involved and be trained.”

For example, Eastern Sabah is filled with natural resources which requires more entrepreneurs to develop. They can get involved in agro cultivation, swiftlet farming and fish and prawn farms.

Manufacturing facilities are also being increasingly set up such as a solar energy factory, glass factory and in the mining industry which is increasingly attracting foreign investments.

As a property developer and pioneering marketer in several health products in Sabah, Liew continues to work hard in his projects including in the agricultural and tourism sectors as well as aggressively promoting Sabah through the Chamber of Commerce.

For example, he invests in swiftlet processing factories and plantations the products of which he exports to China where he has good connections with both private and government organisations.

Liew also plans to get more people involved in the China-inspired Belt-and-Road-Initiative. Despite Sabah’s many resources and its location nearer to China than West Malaysia, the full benefit of the BRI has yet to reach Sabah. Through the association, Liew hopes to increase Sabah’s participation in the BRI.

Tourism Potential

Sabah is without doubt the state with the most tourism potential in Malaysia; it has the richest natural resources, thousands of islands with the best beaches and very friendly and hospitable locals. The land is vast with much of it suitable for agriculture and ecotourism.

There are hardly any racial or ethnic issues as the various races and indigenous people are very well-integrated. Thus, it is the perfect tourism destination and Liew is determined to promote it to be a top tourist destination.

That isn’t too difficult as tourist arrivals keep increasing yearly especially from China, South Korea and Japan. However, sometimes the tourists may not have taken the advice from local guides seriously, hence there are incidents where the safety of tourists was compromised. But these are isolated incidents that are rare, according to Liew.

Being president of the association, Liew feels he has a heavy duty to help develop Sabah. But ever the optimist, Liew notes: “Now is the best time to move on; the timing is right, we have a new government, Sabah is in the right location, we have the best resources and all we need are the right people to help develop Sabah.”

With Liew’s determination and far-sighted vision, it is conceivable that Sabah will begin to see more of its people especially the younger generation of entrepreneurs strike out on their own to reach the next level in developing Sabah.

Mabul Island Resort, Sabah, Malaysa.
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