KUALA LUMPUR - Malay groups have criticised the ground-breaking ceremony of a railway project linking east to west coast in Malaysia, saying the event was lacking in patriotism and was "too Chinese".
The ground-breaking ceremony for the RM55 billion (S$17.7 billion) East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) on Wednesday (Aug 9) in Kuantan was said to lack Malaysian symbols such as flags at the site, according to a report in the Malaysian Insight.
The event was attended by Prime Minister Najib Razak and a delegation led by China's State Councillor Wang Yong.
China is funding the 620km-long rail link stretching from Tumpat town, near Malaysia's border with Thailand, to Kuantan Port, before cutting through the mountainous central region to Port Klang, Malaysia's busiest port.
Malay rights group Perkasa said it was told there were flags and banners in Chinese along the road, but not a single Malaysia flag was seen.
Perkasa Secretary-General Syed Hassan Syed Ali said it seemed like the event did not happen in Malaysia.
"More unfortunate is the emcee, who also spoke in Mandarin, may have also been brought in from China," Malaysiakini news portal quoted him as saying.
National Writers' Association of Malaysia (Pena) President Mohamad Saleeh Rahamad said if the claims were true, it was a "tragedy".
"After 60 years of independence, namely in the Merdeka month of August, we are still indirectly colonised by another country. It would be like the time when we were still a young nation, dependent on the English language and others," he told the Malaysian Insight.
"We hope the government pays attention to these matters. Regardless of the investment, we have a right to show our nationhood.
"This is the image of our country, an independent nation. We are not colonised even if they say our economy is colonised. If this truly happened, Pena is disappointed," he said.
This concern was shared by the head of the Federation of National Writers Association (Gapena).
"The government and its leaders, including bureaucrats, government-linked corporations and technocrats, must be mindful of sovereignty. Every inch of land is subject to that sovereignty, which has to be respected, " the Malaysian Insight quoted Associate Professor Zainal Abidin Borhan as saying.
"We hope that every official function attended by the prime minister is held in Bahasa Melayu."
Addressing claims that the ground-breaking ceremony was unpatriotic, Pahang Umno Youth said there was no loss of Malaysian identity, according to the Malaysian Insight.
The group's leader Shahar Abdullah said there were Malaysian performances and ushers in traditional Malay attire.
"The prayer was recited in Malay. The jalur gemilang (Stripes of Glory) flag was fixed on the main stage,'' he was quoted as saying.
"There was no loss of Malaysian identity.. . It is only our own people who do not instil patriotism and love the country. They only know how to criticise online, spreading false news," he said in a statement.
The ECRL, which will take five years to complete, carries huge economic implications. Private economists and transportation consultants say the land bridge could significantly alter trade routes for the 10-nation Asean grouping, which China views as its southern hinterland.
Najib has called the ECRL a game-changer, saying east coast states are expected to achieve one per cent to 1.5 per cent in additional growth per year from the project.