KOTA KINABALU: The public and private sector in Sabah should leverage the strong economic relations between the state and China as well as Asean countries, said Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor.

The Chief Minister said this was to foster economic synergy in shaping future regional collaboration and economic development.

China, Hajiji said, was Sabah’s largest trading partner, chalking up a bilateral trade value of some RM10.7bil last year.

He said Sabah’s total trade was valued at RM41.463bil in 2023, with the main exports comprising palm oil at RM15.291bil, liquefied natural gas (LNG) at RM5.051bil, crude petroleum at RM2.548bil, palm kernel oil at RM1.289bil, and palm oil-based oleochemicals at RM1.123bil.

“Out of this, our bilateral trade with China totalled RM10.654bil, making it Sabah’s largest trading partner,” he said at the Malaysia-China Summit 2024: Networking Engagement Series in Sabah here on Wednesday (July 3).

His speech was delivered by Assistant Minister to the Chief Minister Datuk Nizam Abu Bakar Titingan.

Hajiji added that Sabah’s economic ties with China were driven by strong trade, investment, and collaborative projects across sectors.

For the manufacturing sector, he said, the state has received RM3.07bil in investments from China to date, which has created 3,086 jobs.

“These investments involved solar glass manufacturing, silica and processing, food manufacturing, rubber products, wood-based products, and plastic products,” he said.

The Chief Minister also highlighted that the palm oil sector is one of the state’s economic cornerstones and as a leading producer of palm oil in Malaysia, Sabah plays a critical role in meeting the global demand for this versatile commodity.

Sabah contributed 24% of Malaysia’s total crude palm oil production at 4.5 million tonnes, he said.

“This is a significant national contribution and showcases the state’s leadership in driving and playing a key role in enhancing our trade and investment for this important commodity,” Hajiji said.

He noted that in line with the global environmental standards, 80% of palm oil plantations in Sabah have achieved the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil Certification as of last year.

Besides that, he said, there were ample opportunities for investors from China and Asean in green technology, high-tech agriculture, and mixed developments.

“Sabah is also pitching to Chinese investors to explore the state’s Blue Economy concept, which involves the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs.

“Sabah also looks forward to increased cooperation with China in green energy, manufacturing, high-technology agriculture, and smart city construction, among other areas, to promote mutual benefits and win-win partnerships,” Hajiji said.

While oil and gas remain important revenue streams for Sabah, he said, the door is open to investors to also explore solar and storage technologies, hydro, geothermal, and carbon market opportunities.

China was also the largest source of foreign tourists to Sabah with 135,855 of the 396,564 international arrivals for the first four months this year comprising Chinese guests.