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De Jong forges closer ties between B.C. and Malaysian sultan

Government claims it hasn't set the budget for new trade office
B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong presents the Sultan of Johor with a Vancouver Canucks' jersey in Malaysia | Photo:  Sultan Johor Official Facebook

The B.C. government has finally confirmed a Business in Vancouver report from almost six months ago that the province would open a trade promotion office in the Malaysian province of Johor.

Bala Murali, the director of international business development for the B.C. international trade ministry, has been appointed managing director of the B.C. office in Johor, said ministry spokeswoman Courtney Carne via email. The office in Johor, which is near Singapore, will be the province’s 14th such foreign trade promotion agency.

Murali is a native of Sarawak, Malaysia. She is expected to begin full-time work in the office in early 2017, but Carne said the budget for the office has not been determined. By comparison, B.C.’s trade office in Jakarta, Indonesia, costs $526,000 a year and is staffed by contractor Via Soekardiman.

Finance Minster Mike de Jong made the announcement in Johor at a Nov. 2 dinner hosted by Sultan Ibrahim of Johor, who was accompanied by Johor cabinet ministers Datuk Tee Siew Kiong and Datuk Hasni Mohammad and cabinet secretary Dato Haji Ismail.

De Jong was joined by Canadian High Commissioner to Malaysia Judith St. George and UrtheCast CEO Wade Larson. De Jong’s visit to Malaysia coincided with a state visit to China by Malaysian Prime Minster Najib Razak and the country’s foreign minister Anifah Aman, who Carne said was “contacted by phone.”

Razak continues to be dogged by the 1MDB state investment fund scandal, which has sparked international media attention and criminal probes. Razak was accused of siphoning US$700 million for his own accounts. He denied wrongdoing and claimed the money was a gift from Saudi Arabia.

Last May, Carne refused to acknowledge, but did not deny, de Jong’s interview with the Star Online in which he revealed the government had decided to open the trade office.

“The B.C. government is exploring opportunities for a stronger trade presence in Southeast Asia,” Carne said at the time. “When a decision is made, that information will be made public.”

In that interview, published April 24 during the Sultan’s tour of B.C., Nelson Benjamin reported that de Jong called the Sultan “a good salesman for Johor and Malaysia.”