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Professor Xiao’ou Tang briefs Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad during his visit to SenseTime Group‘s offices in ’Beijing djuring April 2019

Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund, Khazanah Nasional Berhad (‘khazanah’ meaning ‘treasure’ in Malay ), has appointed its first two foreign nationals as board directors in a strategic move as it seeks to expand its technology investments in China and beyond.

Khazanah appointed three new board directors in total: Professor Xiaolan Xu (also known as Xiao’ou Tang) , founder of SenseTime; Lau Seng Yee, Senior Executive Vice President and Chairman of Group Marketing and Global Brands at Tencent; and Puan Azian Mohd Aziz, head of advisory division at the Attorney General’s Chambers of Malaysia.

Khazanah has always been an investor in high tech and was among the early investors in Alibaba Group, with a US$250 million investment in 2012 that was reportedly valued at more than US$1 billion before the ecommerce group’s listing in 2014. However, it is increasingly looking towards Chinese tech companies and looking for emerging tech opportunities in China.

Appointing Tang and Seng Lee wasn’t an overnight decision. The Khazanah board is chaired by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the current Prime Minister of Malaysia. So, it no coincidence that SenseTime founder Xiao’ou Tang was invited to the Khazanah board a couple of months after Mahathir’s visit to SenseTime Group Ltd’s office in Beijing, where he was given a personal briefing by Tang on the company’s AI technologies.

Earlier in April, SenseTime had appeared in the Malaysian press as it made a deal with China Harbour Engineering Co Ltd. (China) and leading Malaysia AI company G3 Global Bhd. to set up the first AI park in Malaysia with a total targeted investment of more than US$1 billion (about RM4.13 billion) over the next five years.

Khazanah is already heavily invested in technology firms and so it makes perfect sense to have SenseTime and Tencent representatives on-board as it looks to emerging technology opportunities in China.

Tencent is a massive investor in AI ventures and according to analysts Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent are involved in more than half of all AI venture capital investments in China.

SenseTime — Hong Kong’s first tech unicorn, now valued at over $4.5 billion — is expanding aggressively with a growing number of technology development and research partnerships, and could be a big investor in new AI ventures in the future.

So, if Khazanah is looking for future high potential Chinese tech investments, then inviting SenseTime and Tencent into the fold makes perfect sense.

Originally published in Asia AI News daily email newsletter on 2 July 2019.

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