Malaysia Pondering Bid for Disney Theme Park

Malaysia is exploring plans to build the first Disney theme park in Southeast Asia, a government minister said Tuesday.

Effendi Norwawi, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department in charge of economic affairs, said the government is in talks with Disneyland operators in Japan and the United States to establish a theme park in the southern state of Johor, near Singapore.

"We are exploring all our options, including this (Disneyland) because in the southern corridor development, we want it to be a comprehensive and attractive region," he was quoted as saying by national Bernama news agency. "So this will include theme park and other attractions."

Effendi said the government hopes for an agreement with Disney, but it is also "discussing with several other parties to get the best option." He did not give details and could not be reached for further comments.

Building a Disney park would likely boost tourism for Malaysia and would pose stiff competition to Singapore, which is building two casino resorts. Tourism is Malaysia's No. 2 foreign exchange earner, after manufacturing.

Walt Disney Co. (DIS) opened a theme park in Hong Kong in September.

Alannah Goss, a spokeswoman for Disney's Asian operations based in Hong Kong, told The Associated Press that the company constantly assesses strategic markets worldwide but declined to say if Johor is on the list. She said she is aware of ongoing talks.

"We are constantly evaluating strategic markets in the world to grow our park and resort business and the Disney brand," she said. "We continue to evaluate markets but at this time, we have no plans to announce regarding a park in Malaysia."

The Edge business weekly reported over the weekend that Malaysian government officials have made an attractive offer to Oriental Land Co., the Japanese operator of Tokyo Disneyland, to run a similar park in Johor.

The plan is to bring Mickey Mouse and the fantasyland to a 2,000-acre site in the new proposed Nusajaya township in Johor, it quoted unidentified sources as saying.

The newspaper said Walt Disney Co. is interested in the proposed Malaysian park as it will not compete with other Disney parks in Hong Kong and Tokyo due to geographical distance.

Shanghai's mayor said in March that the city is prepared to build a Disney park, but Disney officials have said while talks were underway, no agreement has been reached.