Cabotage debate: Ka Siong reveals major undersea cable project near Sarawak, insists foreign investors not deterred

In his presentations, Transport Minister Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong had outlined the justifications over the policy’s revocation, citing the need to reduce the outflow of foreign exchange, reduce the dependency on foreign vessels, building up local expertise and guaranteeing the nation’s sovereignty. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
In his presentations, Transport Minister Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong had outlined the justifications over the policy’s revocation, citing the need to reduce the outflow of foreign exchange, reduce the dependency on foreign vessels, building up local expertise and guaranteeing the nation’s sovereignty. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

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KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 2 — Transport Minister Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong appeared to gain the upper hand in the cabotage policy debate with DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng tonight, when he revealed a major undersea cable project is set to take place in East Malaysia soon.

Dubbed the Intra-Asia Express Cable Project, Wee said Yoshio Sato of NTT Communications Corporation — the company commissioned to manage the Apricot Subsea Cable System project — had disclosed its plans to construct an undersea cable with Kuching, Sarawak along its planned route.

This was after Wee also showed the audience a short clip of an undated discussion he held with Sato alongside what is believed to be ministry officials.

“Is this not beneficial to Malaysia? This is the MyDIGITAL (Malaysia Digital Economy Blueprint) agenda we have dreamed of.

“That is why the Transport Ministry felt compelled to bring foreign investments in. I will be bringing (Sato) to meet with the Communications and Multimedia Ministry, the Finance Ministry and the International Trade and Industry Ministry so that a consensus can be reached for us to give them support.

“That is why we do not accuse the ministry of impeding any forms of foreign investments,” he said during his winding up speech of the hour-long debate that was televised on Astro Awani.

In the clip, Sato could be heard saying that he needed Wee’s “big help” to ensure the success of the aforementioned project in the future.

“I was accused of not allowing foreign investors into Malaysia which resulted in losses.

“In conclusion, I would like to state that the existing cabotage policy did not impede foreign investors. The losses as claimed by YB Lim cannot be proven, it is merely the words of Rais Husin,” Wee said, referring to former Malaysia Digital Economy Corp (MDEC) chairman who stepped down last month.

Earlier, both Wee and Lim were given 30 minutes to present their talking points, where presentation slides and video testimonials formed the essence of their arguments.

The second half of the debate was allocated for a question-and-answer session where questions from the host and audiences were asked to both the participants.

In his arguments, Lim insisted that the issue was not the entirety of the cabotage policy but merely a small segment involving the carrying out of undersea communications cable repair works.

Citing the objections raised by stakeholders following the revocation of the exemption made by Wee’s Pakatan Harapan predecessor Anthony Loke last year, Lim said there was no objection up until Wee took over the ministry following the change in government the same year.

He cited concerns raised by tech giants Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Malaysia Internet Exchange (MyIX) including local telecommunications providers that went unheeded after they submitted four letters to then Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

“PH made the decision to impose the cabotage exemption for undersea cable repair works. There was no bureaucracy, no delays, no third-parties intervention and no loss of investments.

“When we made the exemption, there were no objections. When it was abolished, the whole industry objected, is this not something of concern?

“Why did YB Wee not object when Loke was the minister?” Lim asked.

Wee then argued that the alleged losses of some RM12-RM15 billion due to the policy reversal as claimed by Rais could not be proven by any forms of justification scientifically.

However, Wee said his ministry took note of the concerns raised and have embarked on a journey to provide clarifications over the government’s policy which have gone smoothly without a hitch thus far.

In his presentations, Wee had outlined the justifications over the policy’s revocation, citing the need to reduce the outflow of foreign exchange, reduce the dependency on foreign vessels, building up local expertise and guaranteeing the nation’s sovereignty.

In his closing remarks, Lim said it did not matter whether there was a victor or loser for tonight’s debate, stressing that the restoration of foreign investors’ confidence was of utmost importance.

The cabotage row began when Wee, in November 2020, revoked the exemption made by his Pakatan Harapan predecessor Anthony Loke.

In April this year, Facebook and Google revealed they would lay two huge subsea cables linking the West Coast of the United States to Singapore and Indonesia, South-east Asia’s biggest economy and home to a growing number of smartphone users, bypassing Malaysia.

On September 30, Wee had denied in the Dewan Rakyat that his decision to revoke the cabotage exemption policy caused the Apricot Subsea Cable System Project by Facebook and Google to bypass Malaysia.

Apricot is a new large-capacity unique-routed optical submarine cable within Asian countries and the United States.

The project, which has been planned since 2018, will be a 12,000km system, with capacity of more than 190Tbps (terabytes per second), east-bound into Tokyo from South-east Asia.

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