Mukhriz Tun Mahathir, deputy trade minister, Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MIDA), extends an invitation to U.S. companies to visit Kuala Lumpur and explore its potential as a regional headquarters.

Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, has set its sights on becoming one of the top 20 most liveable cities worldwide by 2020, a goal toward which it took a baby step this year by climbing from 78th to 77th, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveablility Survey 2012.

The government has developed with urban scholars from around the world a comprehensive plan that Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Tun Razak, launched in October 2010 to reach its ambitious goal by 2020.

But even though its plan has specific, time-sensitive deadlines, the key to the city’s future as a regional and global center will depend on many of its currents attributes, according to Mukhriz Tun Mahathir, the deputy trade minister at the Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

During an interview in his office in Kuala Lumpur, Mr. Mukhriz told Global Atlanta that the city’s multiethnic heritage including Malay Muslims, Chinese and Indian populations provides Kuala Lumpur with a unique personality.

While tensions occasionally may erupt between different groups, especially at the time of general elections, he said that interracial harmony is growing from a sense of tolerance to acceptance. The city’s ability to contain the few outbursts when the anti-Islam video “Innocence of Muslims” set massive demonstrations elsewhere was a case in point.

He also said that the city’s diverse population provides an ideal springboard for a company to locate a regional headquarters and then expand into neighboring members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) or even China and India.

By visiting Kuala Lumpur, he said visitors would experience the city’s “identity, authenticity and intensity, and how determined we are.”

The liveable city designation evaluates a wide variety of criteria including stability, health care, culture and environment, education and infrastructure. A new criterion was added in 2012 related to space that evaluates the amount of sprawl, pollution, green space and connectivity, among other factors.

In Southeast Asia, Kuala Lumpur is second only to Singapore, which was ranked 52nd. Atlanta, for comparison’s sake, was ranked 36th this year.

While at first glance its goal may seem somewhat of an overreach, the Malaysian government is totally committed and has outlined a nine-point plan to get it there.

According to its Economic Transformation Program, the plan calls for Kuala Lumpur to attract 100 multinational companies to set up headquarters in the city and entice more professional talent to move to the city.

The government has created Talent Corp., which has the responsibility of improving the current talent pool available for the Malaysian job market as well as attracting and retaining top foreign talent.

The plan also calls for creating more green space, although Kuala Lumpur is more fortunate than many cities because of its numerous forests and lush parks.

Additionally, it is to clean up the polluted Klang River, which runs through the capital.

There also are plans to create an integrated urban mass rapid transit system and a high-speed railway to connect the city with Singapore.

Other projects include refurbishing its historic areas to attract tourists as well as creating a comprehensive pedestrian network and an efficient waste management system.

Paul W. Jones, the U.S. ambassador to Malaysia, will attend a roundtable discussion at Emory University School of Law, along with two other ambassadors to ASEAN countries, on Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 28. To learn more about the roundtable, click here.