The Malaysian government wants Chinese ambassador Huang Huikang to offer a public explanation regarding his recent remarks about race relations, which had threatened to escalate into a diplomatic row with Beijing.
Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told reporters yesterday that a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday that he chaired in Prime Minister Najib Razak's absence unanimously agreed that a clarification was necessary to end speculation about Dr Huang's remarks, which touched on an increasingly sensitive area following the pro-Malay "red shirt" rally on Sept 16.
"This is to correct the perception, which has been given a negative connotation by certain opposition leaders and their social media. The objective is to end the issue," Datuk Seri Zahid said, despite acknowledging that the envoy had already met Acting Foreign Minister Hamzah Zainuddin on the matter on Monday.
The same day, China defended its ambassador, who appeared to criticise the red shirts for racial discrimination after some clashed with police near Petaling Street, dubbed Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown.
The rally was meant to counter a purported plot by ethnic Chinese to usurp political power from the Malays by toppling Datuk Seri Najib.
Another pro-Malay gathering was scheduled to take place in Petaling Street last Saturday though it was eventually called off.
When Dr Huang visited Petaling Street last Friday to mark the Mid-Autumn Festival, which fell on Sunday, he warned that China "will not sit idly by" when there is "infringement on China's national interests or violations of legal rights and interests of Chinese citizens and businesses".
The remarks drew accusations of interference in Malaysia's affairs and sparked calls for an apology. The Chinese embassy, seeking to allay concerns, said at the weekend that Dr Huang's visit was to show Chinese nationals that the area was safe and to express "the hope that Malaysia stays united, prosperous and harmonious".
But in a speech at the Maritime Silk Road China-Malaysia Forum on Monday, Dr Huang said: "No matter how far you are, no matter how many generations you stay, (for) overseas Chinese, China is forever your tender maternal home (niang jia)."
His comments led Umno division chief and de facto red-shirt spokesman Jamal Yunos to assert on Tuesday that ethnic Chinese have "their country of origin China, and if anything were to happen to them, they still have a place to rely on".
For Malays, however, "there is nowhere else for us on this earth apart from our beloved Malaysia".
Deputy Agriculture and Agro- based Industry Minister Tajuddin Abdul Rahman also said that Chinese Malaysians were "asking for a slap" by hoping that external powers would defend them.
"Chinese people in Malaysia, don't fantasise that there will be a big boss coming, that there will be a godfather coming from China to help you," Malaysiakini quoted him as saying. He added that Dr Huang was only defending Beijing's interests, not those of Chinese Malaysians.
Several senior Umno figures were among those who led the pro-Malay gathering on Sept 16.
It was held in response to the Aug 29-30 rally organised by electoral reforms group Bersih.
The rally had called for Mr Najib's resignation over allegations of abuse of power and graft, but the largely ethnic Chinese turnout sparked a racial backlash.