KL to call up Chinese envoy over remarks

Comments in Chinatown 'tantamount to interfering in Malaysia's domestic affairs'

Dr Huang Huikang (in red batik shirt), China’s envoy to Malaysia, during his visit to Petaling Street on Sept 25 2015. PHOTO: STAR

China's Ambassador to Malaysia is expected to be summoned to Malaysia's Foreign Ministry tomorrow for "interfering" in Malaysian affairs, after he made comments seemingly targeted at pro-Malay demonstrators.

"Malaysia views his remarks seriously," an unnamed Malaysian Foreign Ministry official was quoted as saying by The Star yesterday. "It's tantamount to interfering in Malaysia's domestic affairs."

Ambassador Huang Huikang made his remarks during a visit to Kuala Lumpur's Petaling Street last Friday, saying that China "opposes terrorism and any form of discrimination against races".

Petaling Street - the capital's Chinatown - was the centre of a "red-shirt" rally rife with anti-Chinese sentiments less than two weeks ago, as well as a hastily cancelled second one yesterday.

Although Dr Huang did not directly reference the pro-Malay demonstrators, he warned that China would not sit idly by when there was "infringement on China's national interests or violations of legal rights and interests of Chinese citizens and businesses".

The context of his comments is unclear, given that many businesses in Petaling Street are run by ethnic Chinese Malaysians, although they may have links with businessmen from mainland China.

Analysts told The Sunday Times that Dr Huang's comments are unusual, since diplomats are well aware of the sensitivities of making such statements. With concern growing in South-east Asia over China's growing assertiveness, the remarks could also prompt worries in the region over China's interventionist tendencies.

South-east Asian expert Li Jinming from Xiamen University pointed out that China has in the past spoken up for the plight of overseas Chinese, but that was in "more serious cases", such as when it urged Indonesia to punish those responsible for brutalising ethnic Chinese Indonesians during racial riots in 1998.

"This incident in Malaysia cannot be compared," he said.

Dr Huang's statement, however, could also underscore the concern China has about racial strife in Malaysia, given the close business ties. Malaysia has been China's top Asean trade partner for the past six years. Last year, trade between the two countries hit a high of US$106 billion (S$151 billion), while foreign direct investment from China in Malaysia's manufacturing sector totalled RM4.8 billion (S$1.5 billion).

China is keen to be involved in the high-speed rail project between Malaysia and Singapore.

"Given that it's starting to invest heavily, China would not like to see its interests affected by disturbances in Malaysia, after what happened in Vietnam," said analyst Oh Ei Sun from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, referring to riots in Chinese-owned factories in Vietnam last year.

South-east Asian researcher Xu Liping from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences added that as investments lead more Chinese nationals to work in Malaysia, China would not want their citizens being unwittingly embroiled in racial strife.

Still, Dr Huang's comment may end up lending more ammunition for pro-Malay voices, the most strident of which often label ethnic Chinese Malaysians as "pendatang", or immigrants, who should go back to China.

Yesterday, an Umno Youth exco member lashed out at Dr Huang.

"I would like to tell this Chinese ambassador the ones who are disturbing the peace recently are the Chinese people who provoked and insulted not only the Malay bumiputeras but also the Malay leadership," he said in a statement.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 27, 2015, with the headline KL to call up Chinese envoy over remarks. Subscribe