Malaysia now seems to have a history of politicians coming on the anti-Chinese Communist Party agenda and, while in office, they turn into CCP apologists. The former Malaysian Prime Ministers Mahathir and Najib were the earlier fatalities of being China apologists and now, the way things are panning out, this China love may even destroy PM Muhyiddin. Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister, tried to exude a sense of personal charm during his first official visit to China. On April 2, he addressed his Chinese counterpart Minister Wang Yi as “elder brother” in a live televised press conference, speaking in rehearsed Mandarin and beaming from ear to ear.
These statements have come as a surprise given that the foreign minister came to power on the anti-China sentiment wave. However, at the same time, if one looks at the broader picture, this seems to be part of a trend that all the previous governments have followed. The one thing which is different about this government is that it is barely hanging onto power and if it betrays the sentiments which brought it into power, it can see a sudden collapse.
Wang, who seemed shocked and even uncomfortable by the comment, replied by saying, “We are brothers.” Hishammuddin’s comment, which was broadcasted on state media, was widely interpreted by Chinese social media users as a show of Malaysia’s respect and deference to China. Hishammuddin, on the other hand, was widely chastised at home for a perceived diplomatic gaffe. The foreign minister was generally seen as kowtowing to Beijing, despite China’s more assertive posture in the South China Sea, where the two countries have competing claims.
In addition to this, despite all its belligerence and aggression, China is finding it hard to battle the growing unison within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the issue of South China Sea disputes. Therefore, Beijing is looking at a new divisive tactic. It is trying to please the present ASEAN chair, Brunei, in order to play up the minor differences amongst the ASEAN members.
Read more: China’s efforts to please the ASEAN chair, that is Brunei, go in vain as Brunei hobnobs with other ASEAN nations
However, China’s efforts have gone in vain till now. As such, Brunei is cooperating with other South China Sea disputants who want to tackle Beijing’s assertiveness in the hotly contested region. While China is trying to pull Brunei to its side, it seems that the ASEAN chair has made up its mind to stick with fellow South China Sea disputants within the regional bloc. But it seems that even though most of the nations in the block are standing united, Malaysian leadership is willing to betray its electorate and other ASEAN member nations by getting close to the Chinese Communist Party.
As reported by Asia Times, for many Malaysians, the gaffe revived anxieties about rising Chinese influence in Southeast Asia and raised new questions about the country’s foreign policy direction under Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, with the two sides having officially committed to deepening cooperation in the post-Covid era.
After being chided by Malaysian netizens, Hishammuddin took to Twitter to tamp down the controversy by implying he was merely practising “Asian values” by showing respect to his senior Chinese counterpart. “Being respectful does not signify weakness,” he said, stressing that his country upheld an independent foreign policy. But we all know what it implies when a politician, who has criticised the CCP, is now singing praises of the same.
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