Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said he had received visits from delegations of various countries at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace exhibition (Lima) 2019. (NSTP/EIZAIRI SHAMSUDIN)

LANGKAWI: Many countries, including leading nations in Europe, are keen to invest in Malaysia and set up various joint ventures, including in the aerospace sector.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said he had received visits from delegations of various countries at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace exhibition (Lima) 2019.

These delegations from countries such as France, Russia and Japan were led by ministers, he said, and they all said the same thing.

"They all say they want to cooperate with Malaysia and explore the setting up of manufacturing plants for whole aircraft or components. We will have follow-up meetings with them so that we can set up these manufacturing plants," he told reporters at the Mahsuri International Exhibition Centre at the end of the first day of Lima 2019.

In fact, said the prime minister, there were many other proposals for investments into Malaysia but these had to be studied carefully so that problems do not arise in the future.

"Yes we have received many proposals... I myself have received many proposals. But these proposals cannot be done in a day. We have to look into various aspects because we don't want any problems later," he said.

On another matter, Dr Mahathir said Malaysia was interested in new aircraft for the Royal Malaysian Air Force but had not "reached that stage yet" regarding any procurement.

He said this when asked about what is believed to be a stalled multi-role combat aircraft replacement programme.

"The old aircraft can still perform as you could see earlier this morning (at the opening ceremony for Lima 2019). We saw this morning that the old aircraft can still be used after proper servicing."

Dr Mahathir, in fact, admitted to being impressed with the performance put up by the RMAF team.

"If we had the money, I would like to buy a few hundred (aircraft) but we will have to wait some time before we can," he said to laughter.

To a question regarding his visit to the China pavilion, Dr Mahathir said Malaysia was indeed looking at Chinese products as China had made great strides in technology.

"There are many attractions in the Chinese section... not just their planes, but their ground vehicles too. Yes, we are looking at Chinese products," he said.

China has become a nation of interest ever since Dr Mahathir had said Malaysia would boycott European Union products and instead turn to the Asian giant if the western bloc continued to be biased against oil palm products.

Asked about the "trade war" between Malaysia and the EU, Dr Mahathir said: "There is no trade war... but we have to make clear what they are doing to us. We are telling the world that the rich countries are preventing poor countries from getting rich."

On a more personal note, Dr Mahathir, who is credited with coming up with the Lima series of exhibitions, was asked how he viewed his "baby" as it now stands, especially after opening the exhibition for the first time since the early 2000s.

He said he continued to attend Lima after he left, except for the previous two editions.

"What I could see is that the previous governments still maintained Lima... how successful they were I can't say. But you can see that when we say we want to hold Lima, everyone wants to be here."

Dr Mahathir said Lima this year so far seems to be a success.

Earlier, when launching Lima, he said the government welcomes business delegations at the event to explore opportunities to collaborate with Malaysian companies.

To this end, said Dr Mahathir, the government would continue to facilitate investment projects and business partnerships as well as provide platforms for the aerospace and maritime industries.

He said the Defence Ministry was in the midst of preparing its first Defence White Paper aimed at informing the public of its priorities and future plans to bolster defence and security of the country.

The white paper, said Dr Mahathir, reflects the government's commitment to a more regular cycle of defence policy and continued encouragement of local defence firms to collaborate strategically and manufacture hardware locally.

"The Defence White Paper is a significant contribution to the Malaysian defence landscape for several reasons. It represents a strategic outlook on defence.

"The paper is also a preview of the core elements of the country's defence strategy which lists the strategics interests of national defence and security, the framework within which defence and security issues exist, the various tools and approaches used to bridge many interests as well as conceptualising the ideal roles of the military as well as the various government agencies."

Dr Mahathir said expenditures on both defence and commercial sectors in the aerospace and maritime industries were expected to increase based on rising demands for security, defence and commercial needs.

He said, in 2018, the defence expenditure in Southeast Asia was estimated to be more than US$35 billion (RM142.32 billion)., while the commercial sector, with the expansion of low cost carrier business, accelerated the activities for aerospace manufacturing, training, tourism and maintenance, repair and overhaul industries.

"The original equipment manufacturers are forecasting that by 2037, more than 4,200 new aircraft valued at US$650 billion will be delivered to this region.

"Under the 2019 Budget, Malaysia has allocated a total of RM5.9 billion for the security sector which covers defence, public order and enforcement. The investment is the security sector will involve equipping the armed forces with state-of-the-art technologies and weaponry.

"Modern security threats require Malaysia and other countries to continue to upgrade and modernise their strategic assets. We plan to make Malaysia a leading aerospace nation in Southeast Asia and an integral part of the global market," he said, and touched on Malaysian companies which were already making key aerospace products for global companies such as Airbus, Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Safran, Honeywell and Thales.

After his opening speech, Dr Mahathir and the other guests at Lima 2019 were treated to a show of force from several squadrons of Royal Malaysian Air Force aircraft, including the Sukhoi Su-30MKM Flanker, the F/A-18D Hornet, Hawks, A400M Atlas and the Nuri and EC725 helicopters.

Later the prime minister witnessed the handing over of the first Flanker to undergo a life extension programme to the RMAF. He was also recognised for his role in bringing industrial and economic benefits to Malaysia through his encouragement of international aerospace partnerships, receiving a memento from BAE Systems in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the service of the company's Hawk aircraft in the RMAF.