KUALA LUMPUR • Malay groups have criticised as "too Chinese" and lacking in patriotism the ground-breaking ceremony of a railway project linking Malaysia's east and west coasts that was launched by Prime Minister Najib Razak and a senior official from China.
The ceremony for the RM55 billion (S$17.5 billion) East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) on Wednesday lacked Malaysian symbols such as the country's flag at the site, said reports in Malaysian news sites.
The Chinese delegation at the ceremony was led by State Councillor Wang Yong.
China is funding the 620km- long rail link stretching from Tumpat town in Kelantan, near Malaysia's border with Thailand, south to Pahang 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 no Malaysian flag was seen, Malaysiakini reported.
A picture of the ECRL launch ceremony posted by local news sites showed banners of different colours in the Chinese language on a lane leading to the site.
Perkasa secretary-general Syed Hassan Syed Ali said it seemed like the event did not happen in Malaysia.
And the emcee, who also spoke in Mandarin, "may have also been brought in from China", Malaysiakini quoted him as saying.
The ECRL project is one of several mega projects involving Chinese investments or soft loans that have stirred some concern that the Malaysian economy would become too dependent on Beijing.
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 (TMI) site.
"We hope the government pays attention to these matters... 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 added.
This concern was shared by the head of the Federation of National Writers Associations of Malaysia (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," TMI quoted Associate Professor Zainal Abidin Borhan as saying.
"We hope that every official function attended by the Prime Minister is held in the Malay language."
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, Mr Shahar Abdullah, said there were Malaysian performances and ushers in traditional Malay attire.
"The prayer (at the start of the event) was recited in Malay. The (Malaysian) flag was fixed on the main stage," he was quoted as saying.