Lim Guan Eng under fire for statement in Chinese

PETALING JAYA • Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng has received flak from politicians and Malaysians alike after issuing official statements in Chinese, in a country where the official language is Malay.

But Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said yesterday he would not make an issue out of this as Mr Lim might have done so with a Chinese audience in mind.

Mr Lim last week issued a statement regarding financial matters related to the Tun Razak Exchange in three languages - Malay, English and Chinese.

He was attacked for deviating from the usual government practice of issuing statements in Malay only, or including an English translation on matters that might have international import.

Mr Lim on Sunday defended himself by issuing a statement only in Chinese on his Facebook.

Lawyer Azhar Harun, who usually supports the actions of the new Pakatan Harapan government, said while the Constitution guarantees Malaysians the right to use one's mother tongue, the official language is Bahasa Malaysia.

He said in a Facebook post yesterday: "You are issuing a press statement and conducting a press conference as part of discharging your official duties. Don't be arrogant and dismissive of this. You are really pushing it. There's a limit to 'new Malaysia'."

Mr Lim's statement in Chinese infuriated social media users and politicians as many had to rely on translation tools to understand it.

Former Johor menteri besar Mohamed Khaled Nordin said he regarded Mr Lim's statement as rude, insulting and an attempt to undermine the position of the Malay language in government affairs.

Mr Lim said the use of one's mother tongue is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution. "In this constitutional spirit, what is wrong with the distribution of press releases in Chinese or other languages?" he said.

Malaysiakini news site said Mr Lim, during his 10 years as Penang chief minister, had regularly issued statements in Malay and English, or trilingual statements.

Said Tun Dr Mahathir: "It's a minor mistake, I don't want to make it an issue. Sometimes we make mistakes... I think he issued it in three languages, but for the Chinese audience he issued a statement in Chinese, that's all."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2018, with the headline 'Lim Guan Eng under fire for statement in Chinese'. Subscribe