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Developing global cities: The road map to 'hub' status

   
Yeoh with Forbes magazine president and editor-in-chief Steve Forbes.

Hong Kong, 23 September 2004

Since 1988, millions have played at being Mayor of the virtual, utopian Sim City. The challenges are reflected in the real world, where globalisation has brought about tremendous urbanisation, creating disparity within cities, and between them and their rural surroundings.

The Asia Pacific region’s cities are among the fastest-growing, and are increasingly important in the global urban hierarchy as technology brings countries close to each other.

How are government authorities and developers balancing social, environmental and economic pressures as they strive to promote growth and attract investment? What mix of policies (infrastructure, rule lf law, tax, skilled workforce etc) is needed to win the race to attract enough foreign direct investment and multinational corporation regional headquarters to qualify as a “hub” city or regions?

YTL group managing director Tan Sri (Dr) Francis Yeoh discussed these issues at the Forbes Global CEO Conference in Hong Kong. The conference, entitled “The Connected World”, attracted 350 top business and political leaders from around world.

Many in the audience applauded the views of Yeoh and asked for the full text of his speech. They found his observations poignant and his advice on city building useful and relevant. The other speakers who shared the platform on this topic were Robert Carr, MP, Premier, Parliament of New South Wales; Vincent Lo, Chairman of Shui On Holdings Ltd; and John C Tsang, JP, Hong Kong's Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology.

Full text of speech by Tan Sri (Dr) Francis Yeoh:

Asian Cities: A global hub? A virtual possibility!

It is a common lament of many who live in cities around the world that the city is something to be endured and left behind at weekends. In 1800, 10% of the world’s population lived in cities. Today more than half the world’s populations do. In the process pockets of urban slums were created. The urban poor are accused of contributing to environmental degradation and the urban rich are accused of contributing to ethic and moral degradation through financial swindles and other sins which is easier to hide from anonymous or absent neighbours.

It is not all Tower of Babel though, a city also stands for progress in human endeavour in commerce, arts and culture and all good things, material and spiritual that brings comfort and joy to our daily lives. Therefore from the early settlements of Mesopotamia to modern day slums, most human activity takes place in cities. It is therefore timely to discuss the fate of future cities in Asia as potential global hubs especially cities in China if only on account of her sheer economic muscle.

I can only look at Shanghai or Beijing from afar. Looking from afar may give you the impression that not only the cities in China will make the cut but also many other dynamic cities in Asia. I know my city Kuala Lumpur intimately and perhaps it is safe for me to evaluate the potential of KL as a microcosm of the potential of Asian cities as hubs.

Infrastructure

Visitors experience their first culture shock on arrival at KL. Expecting a Third World country they encounter the world’s 2nd largest airport – of stunning architectural design, efficient service and a friendly welcome. Everything after that sustains the impression – a world class highway or one of the quickest and certainly the cheapest fast rail links into the city centre.

Kuala Lumpur is 5th in the world league of tall buildings without the density of most capital cities. We have one of the most developed infrastructures in Asia. Most of the buildings are of distinctive design where the futuristic blends with the traditional. Even the railway has the fairytale look of the Arabian Nights.

The most outstanding are the Twin Towers of intrinsic elegance but have also achieved fame as the tallest buildings in the world and stuff of every schoolboy quiz.

The city is a fully modern metropolis. Substantial port facilities fully containerised and receiving ships from around the world is less than 1 hour away.

Commerce

KL is the commercial centre of the country’s Stock Exchange, Bank Negara, commercial headquarters and zoned with a clearly designated business centre. The concentration on commerce is facilitated by the creative idea of transferring the seat of Government to two twin cities Putrajaya and Cyberjaya within easy reach of both KL city centre and the airport. Cyberjaya as the name indicates is deliberately designed as an intelligent city ensuring Government is fully wired.

Kuala Lumpur is served by an advanced IT infrastructure including the dedicated Multimedia Super Corridor – in touch with the world, with power and all other essential services.

There is a well educated, well trained English speaking work force accustomed to modern commerce and a resident, long established foreign investor community.

Business Environment

KL enjoys the prevailing political stability that characterizes Malaysia, which besides Parliamentary democracy includes an institutional and regulatory framework conducive to business i.e. good governance, transparency, and the rule of law, intellectual property rights, business incentives and hospitality.

Although a Muslim country we have one of the best security operations in the region and are designated Regional Anti Terrorist Centre.

Cultural Attractions

Malaysia has become the No. 1 tourist destination for the region. Kuala Lumpur has a well developed travel infrastructure and many attractions both scenic and in terms of the cultural mix of peoples, customs, dress, architecture and cuisines accompanied by our mantra, ‘Malaysia, Truly Asia.’

Do all of these assets make Kuala Lumpur as a future global hub? Well the answer is surely, not yet! KL still has problems of petty crime, corruption and other irritating inefficiencies, although all of this is laid at the doors of  ‘illegals’ and ‘others’. Most cities have similar problems and blame the ‘others’

The utopian global city hub, Asian SimCity?

While we lament, it is good to celebrate that some guy from the city invented the SIMS, the little people living in a virtual city called SimCity and the game allows us to play Mayor with God like powers!

If I was the Mayor of this utopian hub, I surely know what I want!

My city will be a beacon on a hill, which welcomes the ingenuity of man celebrating and preserving the glory of God’s creation, all of the wonders of nature and all of the wonders of man’s talents. It will not be a festering ground and septic swamp for evildoers, who celebrate the cult of crime, corruption, destruction and death.

The people of my city will understand that the human body is the most sacred of God’s temple and therefore must be preserved at all costs. The physical temples of different faiths created by man are mere shadows of the sacred temple that God has created in all of us.

Whilst I am a council member of London Business School, and Insead and Wharton and still chose to speak to the Oxford University Business School, it is not because I am disloyal to the first three but it is because I am loyal to all four. They are all great schools and they are all welcomed in my city.

In a similar fashion I spoke in a Business Week forum last year, a Fortune forum last month and I am speaking to you today in a Forbes forum because I respect all three in equal measure and surely a red carpet awaits them in my city, not red tape.

It is expected that the people of my city will celebrate a democratic form of government accompanied by other constitutional liberties like the freedom of speech, freedom of choice of faith and freedom of individual pursuits of happiness.

This is buttressed by institutions where rule of law is supreme. My city will have to come up with a system of laws that allow for ownership and transfer of property and a continual process for changing the laws that is clear and unambiguous, implemented fairly and with transparency. I will also have a system of laws that allows all the individual liberties accommodating the increasing complexities of societies.

With all these in mind, my city will probably be a quilt of the best parts of today’s cities around the globe. I would welcome the regulatory and legal framework of London and not forget the theatres. I will weave in the power of media savvy New York and not forget Wall Street. I love both of their parks, Hyde Park and Central Park respectively and will incorporate both of these ‘lungs’ generously around my city.

I would like to replicate the elegance of French taste in architecture and fashion and include their fine taste in food and wine. Hong Kong’s buzz and energy and anorexic tax regime will also be woven into the fabric and so would Singapore’s zero tolerance for crime and corruption.

I would like to welcome all global travellers to my airport, designed to cater for all the massive traffic accommodated at Heathrow, JFK and Singapore but still look beautiful like Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). When I have all of these, I want my friend, Luciano Pavarotti, to sing the praises of my city in an opera house no less than ‘La Scala’.

Most of all I will like all of these great elements to be incorporated in my city at Kuala Lumpur’s prices. This is yet another case of world class cities at third world prices but at any cost not with third world mentality. Will Shanghai or Beijing meet the cut? I know it is ‘virtually’ possible, only time will tell.

Thank you and God bless all of you.

Tan Sri (Dr) Francis Yeoh
Managing Director, YTL Corporation Bhd
Speech delivered at Forbes Global CEO Conference
in Hong Kong on Thursday, September 23, 2004

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