KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Opposition party Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) has urged Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to be mindful in his choice of words when making statements about China.
MCA central committee member Chew Kok Woh said some remarks made by Tun Dr Mahathir were insensitive and not thoughtful.
"MCA wants the new government to be tactful in handling China because we can never win," he said in a statement.
He cited the remarks made by Dr Mahathir in an interview published by news site Malaysiakini on Thursday (Aug 23), in which the premier said a 9km-long wall surrounding the Malaysia-China Industrial Park in Kuantan, Pahang, should be taken down.
Mr Chew criticised the news portal for its negative report on the park, which described the wall as Kuantan's "Great Wall of China".
"Those who know Chinese developers can tell you that it's a practice to have their workers live and work within their construction sites because they practically work around-the-clock to ensure efficiency," he said.
According to the news site, Chinese workers said they were prohibited from going beyond the confines of the wall, while Malaysian elected representatives were prevented from entering the industrial park.
"An industrial park is not a foreign country, it should be under the laws of Malaysia but cutting out entry to local officials is not the right thing to do," Dr Mahathir was quoted as saying. "So we need to take down walls and all that because these are wrong in our country."
Mr Chew also said some of the statements made by Dr Mahathir ahead of and after his recent visit to China were "unwise and undiplomatic", pointing out the Prime Minister's "new colonialism" warning.
In Beijing, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang had asked Dr Mahathir if the countries were in agreement about upholding free trade. Dr Mahathir said that free trade should also be fair trade, adding: "We do not want a situation where there is a new version of colonialism happening because poor countries are unable to compete with rich countries."
Mr Chew warned that "the impact will be great if China loses its patience and choose to retaliate quietly", citing the effects on places like South Korea and Pacific island Palau when Chinese tourists stayed away.
He added that Malaysia should have taken advantage of the current China-United States trade war instead of "making China lose face".
Mr Chew said China had stopped buying soybeans from US farmers and this was the best time for Malaysia to increase its palm oil exports to China.
He also questioned the timing of Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah's RM500,000 (S$167,000) donation, on behalf of Malaysia, to Japan on the eve of Dr Mahathir's visit to China.
"This was on the day, Aug 15, that China annually marks the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II. The Chinese-speaking world is talking about it and the insensitiveness of Malaysian leaders," he said.
Mr Chew said Wisma Putra, the Foreign Affairs Ministry, would surely know of the bitter rivalry between China and Japan.
"Thanks to Dr Mahathir, we are now seen as pro-Japan and at a time when everyone wants a share of the huge China market," he said.