China Flaunts Political Clout in Malaysia with Envoy's Defiance

BenarNews Staff

2015-09-29
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150929_MY_CH_620.jpg Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak (left) prepares to shake hands with China's President Xi Jinping at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders meeting at Yanqi Lake, north of Beijing, Nov. 11, 2014.
AFP

China has again demonstrated its rising political clout in Southeast Asia – this time thumbing its nose at diplomats in Malaysia wanting to summon Beijing's ambassador in Kuala Lumpur over his alleged interference in domestic politics, according to diplomatic sources.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman had directed his officers to summon Huang Huikang, the Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia, to seek an explanation over his recent statements about race and violent demonstrations in the Southeast Asian country.

But Huang ignored the foreign ministry directive after private discussions with some Malaysian officials, in a move highlighting Beijing’s rising economic and political influence in the region.

Huang made the eyebrow-raising statement last week when he visited a predominantly Chinese district of Kuala Lumpur, stating that Beijing opposed any form of discrimination against races and would not tolerate violent demonstrations in the Southeast Asian country, wracked by racially charged events recently.

The visit came amid reports that ethnic Malay supporters of embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak planned to march through the area to protest alleged abuses by ethnic Chinese traders.

The planned protest at the Petaling Street Chinese enclave was aimed at countering a mammoth rally calling on Najib, leader of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party, to quit over a corruption scandal.

Basic diplomacy

While some believe Huang’s statement may have prodded the organizers to scrap the protest, they questioned the Chinese approach of disregarding basic diplomacy.

When Malaysian foreign ministry officials contacted the Chinese embassy in Kuala Lumpur to summon Huang, his aides told them he was very busy, demanding instead that the officers go to the Chinese diplomatic mission to see Huang – a bid to reverse a longstanding tradition in international diplomacy, the sources said.

Instead of complying with the summons, Huang instead went to lobby Ong Ka Ting, the Special Envoy for China, and several Malaysian ministers, who decided to let Huang off the hook, the sources said.

Malaysian dailies reported that Huang met Domestic Trade Minister Zainuddin Hamzah in the administrative capital Putrajaya for more than two hours on Monday and Tourism and Culture Minister Nazri Abdul Aziz for dinner a day earlier.

The local Sin Chew Chinese daily published a photo showing Nazri sitting opposite Huang at a rectangular dinner table, along with five other unidentified people.

Nazri later “admitted he made a mistake” and said he had not intended to interfere in the foreign ministry’s affairs, The Star daily reported Tuesday.

It was not clear whether the ministers had consulted Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is in New York attending the United Nations General Assembly, about their action to roll back Foreign Minister Anifah's decision.

"This is a big blow to Malaysia and national sovereignty," said a diplomatic source. "The Chinese influence appears to have reached the top echelons of power.”

Fuming

Foreign Minister Anifah, also in New York with Najib, was fuming over the move to rescind his decision.

"I am disappointed that some cabinet ministers had decided to take certain actions and make press statements without consulting me first. I wish to reiterate that I did not cancel my instruction to call in the Ambassador of China to Wisma Putra to seek clarification," he said, referring to Malaysia’s foreign ministry.

"Unfortunately, their interference has caused a negative perception in the eyes of the public,” Anifah said.

“As a sovereign state, we should convey our stand clearly to China," he said, stressing that his decision followed discussions with Najib.

Despite his statement, it was unclear whether the foreign ministry would indeed officially summon Huang.

‘Friendly neighbors’

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Huang's visit to Petaling Street during the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival was a "normal" activity, stressing that Beijing "adheres to principles of peaceful coexistence" and "does not interfere in other countries' domestic politics or intervene in other countries' internal affairs."

"China and Malaysia are friendly neighbors, we hope that Malaysia can maintain national unity and stability and ethnic harmony," he said at a daily news briefing in Beijing, according to news agencies.

Malaysia-China relations have improved rapidly in recent years with bilateral trade burgeoning last year to US$101.98 billion, according to the Malaysian national news agency Bernama. Investments have also risen.

But close bilateral business ties should not stop Kuala Lumpur from standing up to China, some Malaysian leaders say.

"We need not be [so] afraid to express our feelings for fear of jeopardizing economic relations and other interests that we cannot reprimand them when they go against diplomacy norms," Khairy Jamaluddin, the youth wing head of UMNO, was quoted saying.

He said Huang had no right to meddle in Malaysia's “internal” affairs.

China is seen to have increased its encroachment into Malaysian waters in the disputed South China Sea. Beijing’s increasingly assertive moves to press its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea have raised concerns among its other neighbors and the United States, as well.

China has been accused in the past of using its mighty financial influence over Cambodia, its key regional ally, to prevent any statement being adopted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the South China Sea that may be damaging to Beijing.

“We hope Malaysia does not succumb to similar pressure,” said one diplomat who has been closely following the latest diplomatic spat.

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