Earlier this month, Malaysian social media surfaced when Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein called China is a “big brother“In front of his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi. This was done during a televised press conference on April 2 in Beijing, where Malaysia’s top diplomat was attending a Malaysia-China bilateral dialogue. During the 47 years that China and Malaysia have maintained diplomatic relations, Malaysia has been extremely cautious in asserting its independence and sovereignty in its relationship with Beijing. Therefore, the term “big brother”, considered by many to be Malaysia, has subdued China and asserted China’s preeminent position in the broader Southeast Asia.
After a massive counterattack in cyberspace, Hishammuddin was forced to take it on Twitter to make a statement that he only showed respect to his counterpart, a senior Chinese politician. He is implying that he merely practices “Asian values”, that is to respect the elders. The comment was intended to convey that Wang was “a more senior Foreign Minister, hence the” big brother “to me personally,” Hishamuddin tweeted on April 3. “Respect doesn’t mean weakness.”
There are a number of reasons why this comment is so sensitive in a Malaysian context.
First, there is a sizable Chinese minority in Malaysia, which makes up just over 25% of the population. A key segment of Malay elites have always questioned the loyalty of longstanding Malay and Chinese Malays Malay policy preference has exacerbated Malay-Chinese tensions. Since the country’s independence, the Malay elites have doubted that Chinese people could eventually be more loyal to Beijing, even though most had settled in Malaysia generations ago. For many years, the Malaysian government used the story that communism in Malaysia was largely a problem for the Chinese in Malaysia. Communism is considered a “sin” in the Malay Muslim community, because communism is atheism. In the context where the Chinese in Malaysia are systematically marginalized in the political system as the ultimate Malaysian power, calling China the “big brother” is never is a good idea.
Second, amid a rising China and its government refusing to discuss its extended “nine-dash” maritime claim, the Malays are extremely sensitive to whatever appears to be Malaysia. leaning towards China. Malaysia and China are both disputing a number of islands in the South China Sea and Chinese naval and fishing vessels routinely enter Malaysian waters that Beijing claims is within the “nine-dash line”. . Reports say that the Chinese navy at least entered Malaysian waters 89 times from 2016 to 2019, and often refuses to leave the area even with warnings from the Malaysian navy. More 100 Chinese The fishing boat did the same.
The US government has repeatedly asked Malaysia to confront China over its regular naval and fishing incursions, but Malaysia has chosen a softer diplomacy approach.
Third, many Malaysians are concerned that the growing Chinese investment in Malaysia will lead to Chinese dominance in the coming years. Some Chinese investments are key, strategic area. Some of these are particularly sensitive, such as construction projects new island Johor Strait near Singapore to attract more Chinese citizens to live in Malaysia.
Hence, at least on the official level, Malaysia always maintains that it is neutral when confronted with the “great powers”, ie the United States and China.
And so Hishamuddin’s comment was a Freudian slip or a fake? I would argue that it was before. Since administration of Prime Minister Najib Razak, Malaysia increasingly turned its back on China in terms of trade and investment, and in some areas, in favor of diplomacy. This is an ardent advocate of the Belt and Road Initiative and will participate in a high-speed rail project aimed at linking Singapore to Kunming in southwestern China. Many of Largest planned infrastructure project in Malaysia there is links with China.
Malaysia was also the original member of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade agreement initiated by ASEAN (but dominated by China). In recent days, Malaysia has announced that they will use it COVID-19 vaccine is made in China.
FM Malaysia probably became very close to the Chinese leader during his time as Minister of Transport during the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, many of whom were citizens. China. (The flight was forced to go to Beijing.) He was a key man in Malaysia on the matter, leading press conferences and liaising with the Chinese government to coordinate search of the destroyed plane.
He is also known to take a “soft soft” approach to China, knowing that a direct confrontation with China is impossible. Recently, when Minister Sarawak complained to him about Chinese fishing vessels entering the Sarawak waters on his own, he arranged a “Tea party” between the Minister and the Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia rather than directly confronting the ambassador.
In short, while Malaysia still holds a neutral stance on the competition between the US and China, on the private side, under this foreign minister, Malaysia has been inclined to China. Western powers such as the US and Australia are aware of this but do not want to go public. They hope that Malaysia will turn its back on the West when they realize that the “soft” approach to China is not bringing about much results.