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Staff Reporter

He has a reputation as one of Southeast Asia’s most fiery leaders, but last week, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad took on a considerably more humble role that of traveling salesman.

Mahathir’s product? His envisioned “Multimedia Super Corridor” a proposed multibillion-dollar, high-tech supercity that the prime minister says will become the multimedia hub of Southeast Asia.

Mahathir made his sales-pitch Jan. 14, in a pair of addresses to some of L.A.’s leading high-tech and entertainment executives, who he hopes will set up shop in the proposed corridor and use Malaysia as a launching pad to reach the increasingly lucrative Asian marketplace.

“You can do business from a distance,” Mahathir said. “But it still is necessary to look at the area from the inside. Then you will understand the needs of the (Asian marketplace) much better.”

Once constructed, the corridor would be a 9-by-30-mile zone stretching south of the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur to the new Kuala Lumpur International Airport, scheduled to open in 1998.

Mahathir hopes to lure high-tech companies to the zone with tax breaks, tough laws against intellectual property and computer fraud and a high-tech infrastructure featuring state-of-the-art fiber optics.

The corridor’s projected $8 billion-to-$15 billion price tag, Mahathir said, will be paid primarily with private-sector investment from Malaysian and foreign companies.

Mahathir long has been a vocal critic of Western culture and values. But he said that attracting foreign companies is Malaysia’s best chance “to leapfrog into the 21st century.”

“Between China and India, you have 2 billion people. And that’s not counting Southeast Asia, which has another 500 million people,” Mahathir said. “Imagine Hollywood being able to understand this, and then, with their creative thinking, build on it and produce stories to appeal to such a huge population.”

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