Melaka is set to become the Dubai, Venice and New York of the Far East with MWEZ

With the Melaka Waterfront Economic Zone, Melaka is set to reinvent itself as a global metropolitan, just like Dubai, New York and Venice combined into one place.

Melaka is the state in Malaysia where the Strait of Malacca is located. It was and still is the shortest shipping route between the Far East and the Indian Ocean. And it will continue to be in for a long time.  However, this geographic advantage which makes Melaka a giant economic powerhouse has been sound asleep, until now. 

Recently the Melaka State Government has announced that it is reviving its role as a maritime powerhouse with the Melaka Waterfront Economic Zone. Centuries ago, Melaka used to be a metropolitan perhaps just like London and New York are today. It connects merchants from the west and the East. The simplest analogy about Melaka in the past is it similar to an online marketplace. You don’t have to go all the way to Saudi if you want to sell goods to the Arabs, or you don’t need to go to China to buy cheap stuff. All you have to do is to come to Melaka.

In fact some sources claimed that the Arabs referred to Malaka as Malakat meaning the meeting place of all merchants. However, it is more than just eBay or Alibaba Express. It was the bastion of Islam because it facilitated the spread of Islam through trade and expansion. 

The Sultanate of Malacca was a powerful Kingdom that influenced common culture in the region that neighbouring states attempted to adopt. In simpler words, it is ‘cool’ to be associated with Melaka in those days. Just like saying that you have businesses in Dubai or New York, It gives you automatic respect. This reverence, unified culture helped spark the spread of Islam throughout the region. 

So much so, that when Malacca fell to to the Portugese, it reverberated and sent shockwaves to the Islamic Empire, and triggered the Melaka siege

Unfortunately, today Melaka did not benefit from its strategic location or the Straits name after it. All the maritime activity is now concentrated on its neighbours as depicted in the Map below (the full story can be found on Ocean Review).

Reviving the Legacy of Melaka with Melaka Waterfront Economic Zone

The State of Melaka has come up with a plan or a vision rather to revive the Melaka shorefront as a formidable maritime player. It is called The Melaka Waterfront Economic Zone (MWEZ). It is going to attract 100 Billion of Investment and create 20,000 jobs, 

Malaysia has a few economic corridors like the Northern Corridor Economic Region, East Coast Economic Region, Iskandar Malaysia, Sabah Development Corridor, Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy.

Strangely, Melaka has been left out of the Economic Corridors despite being surrounded by them. Perhaps Melaka has been doing rather well, its biggest strength lies dormant. 

It attracted 18.9 tourists in 2019 and a substantial part of the tourists came from Indonesia. Melaka is like just across the street to some parts of Indonesia. Medan for example is much closer to Melaka compared to Jakarta.  

Tourism is not Melaka’s only strength, with the manufacturing sector is the second-largest contributor to its GDP. 

Melaka is also looked up to as a model state, that even think tanks from other states would come and study how it handles development in a sustainable manner. 

What Should Investors Know about the Melaka Waterfront Economic Zone

The biggest commitment of the Melaka State Government is to do things right. MWEZ is committed to the SDGs with the ultimate goal is for the people of Melaka to benefit from the economic spillover. 

MWEZ once implemented in the next 15 years will not revive past glory, but may even surpass it. MWEZ is going to focus on industrial 4.0. Consideration and thought is given to readiness and compatibility of integrating whatever future technology.

For example, while the world is obsessed with 5G in some parts of the world like Chad and  Norway are already exploring 6G. MWEZ is going to be versatile and can migrate to 6G when the time comes without massive investment cost. 

Another thing is, many players in the manufacturing sector are reluctant to invest in  IR 4.0 because they don’t see the need to. Simply, because the migration is IR 4.0 is costly. Many, in the manufacturing industry, have the attitude, if it is not broken don’t fix it.

MWEZ is going to attract both domestic and foreign investments in IR 4.0. In the long run it is going to benefit the

It s main focus is to boost the maritime sector as a major economic contributor. There is huge opportunities in development in:

  • Container and Cargo Ports
  • Ship to ship transfer facilities
  • Free trade Zones Logistic hubs,
  • Oil and Gas Terminals
  • Ship repair yards

This is going to be a game changer for Melaka because it is focusing on Ship to Ship operations which enables ships to transfer their cargo to other vessels without having to dock at piers. 

These are some of the things plan for MWEZ. But we can plan things whether it will come true or not that is another story.

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How Important is the Melaka Waterfront Economic Zone ?

Some critics and sceptics say this is going to be another white elephant. This is because there is not much information available about MWEZ. Some even say it’s a gimmick to gain political mileage, given the fragile nature of Malaysia’s political situation. 

Investors have the right to know that, prior to this there was a similar initiative that was scrap. But it can be honestly and independently said that MWEZ is done deal InsyaAllah. Why?

The reasoning for this is because MWEZ is already listed in the Melaka Strategic Plan 2035 which was unveiled a month ago. The Melaka Strategic Plan 2035 is going to be a guide and blueprint even if the government changes hands.

In the Melaka Strategic Plan 2035, the Melaka State Government is serious about MWEZ. They not just committed to MWEZ but makes it the hero of the Plan, they are seven other supporting industries but MWEZ is positioned to be the game-changer.

MWEZ is the top priority and acts as a catalyst for Industrial and Economic Revolution for the Melaka State. There are several quick wins that have been laid out namely telecommunications infrastructure where MWEZ will have 100% 5G connectivity. 

Secondly the development of the Maritime hub where the international port, ship to ship transfer facilities, cruise and marina.  It is divided into 5 sections 

A) Melaka Harbourfront

This is where the international port is located with the latest shipping and logistic technology for container and cargo. In line with Melaka reputation for green development, this section will also house a hydropower plant centre. This zone is also going to be a Free Industrial Zone. 

B) Smart Logistic Nucleus

This is where the logistic hub is going to be with all the cargo management offices. It also going to be a place for recreational and commercial activities as well as community facilities and institution.

C) Digital Satellite Township

In this section, there will be an iconic tower which will be known as the MWEZ tower, hotels, accommodation including a residential area, a resort island and a marina jetty. This is going to be a new tourism attraction adding more tourism assets to an established reputation. 

D) Central Eco Business Park

A Free Trade Zone which is accompanied by Custom Immigration and Quarantine Complex, a special jetty for cruise ships and a shopping and mixed development hub. This where the shopping activities are going to be and it is going to be built having the pandemic in mind and life in the new normal

E)  Maritime and Trade Nucleus Township

This section will house facilities for maritime activities, such as the Ship to Ship Transfer. This will also contain warehouses, biodiesel, oil and gas storage.

All these are meant to do one thing which boosts the maritime sector as a major economic contributor. MWEZ has the potential to transform Melaka into an economic powerhouse. 

Silencing Melaka Gateway

Before the introduction of MWEZ, there was a similar initiative that was practically abandoned. Sceptics dubbed Melaka Gateway as a white elephant. This issue was not addressed at the launching ceremony of MWEZ. It should have been addressed to silence critics about the issue.

If you do some research, Melaka Gateway has many issues with it. One of them is sovereignty. Melaka Gateway was a China-backed project,  its real objectives were to serve China hegemony specifically it Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).  

This is because 80% of oil imports that fuel the economy pf China have to go through the Straits of Melaka. China has been talking about gaining influence over the straits of Melaka as far back in 2003 referring it as the ‘Melacca Dilemma’. You will get a clearer picture of the issue about Melaka Gateway with this Forbes article.

Melaka Gateway is said to undermine the port in Singapore and dubbed by the media as Singapore Slayer. This is because Singapore is aligned with US policies, which could potentially disrupt the steady flow of fuel needed to keep China’s economy alive. 

Melaka Gateway only covers about 1,350 acres, but MWEZ covers a massive 25,500 acres with a 30-kilometre stretch. One of the issues is stakeholders were not consulted, the Portuguese settlement. MWEZ target 80% public support for the MWEZ from 2021 to 2023. This is listed as the first milestone for MWEZ. 

The ultimate aim of MWEZ is to revive Melaka’s glory and live up to its true potential and not as a tool for foreign agenda or international politics.

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