Malaysia’s Najib risks backlash at home after deals with China

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak and China's Premier Li Keqiang attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, China, November 1, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak and China’s Premier Li Keqiang attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, China, November 1, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

By Joseph Sipalan | KUALA LUMPUR Mon Nov 7, 2016 | 12:38am EST

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is facing grumblings back home that he is “selling off” his country after returning from China with about $34 billion worth of deals, which could help lift the economy ahead of elections.

The concerns emerge from a deep-seated distrust of the Chinese among Malaysia’s Malay-Muslim majority, who form the support base for the ruling United Malay National Organisation (UMNO).

Najib was quick to dismiss the concerns after concluding his six-day visit to China.

“Some have scaremongered that Malaysia is being sold off. This is absurd and absolutely false,” Najib said in a statement on Friday, insisting the projects will be owned and run by Malaysians.

The deals include Malaysia’s first significant defense deal with China, an agreement to buy four Chinese naval vessels.

Najib’s visit followed that of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who announced his country’s “separation” from the United States and signed agreements and loan pledges worth an estimated $24 billion with Beijing.

UMNO leaders expect Najib to brief them soon so the party can start allaying any fears about China’s rising influence in Malaysia, said Shahidan Kassim, a senior member of the party’s supreme council and a federal minister.

“All of this has its pros and cons, but in UMNO we must have a policy statement on this,” he told Reuters.


Ethnicity and religion are sensitive issues in Malaysia, where Muslim Malays form a little over 50 percent of the population of 31 million. Ethnic Chinese make up about 25 percent and ethnic Indians about 7 percent.

Malaysia’s ethnic Chinese have long been a scapegoat for the Malay community, with UMNO leaders pointing to ethnic Chinese economic dominance to unite Malays and keep a firm grip on political power.

Last year, ethnic ties became strained under the weight of two opposing demonstrations largely split along racial lines. A ‘Malay pride’ rally blocked off Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur in a show of strength following an anti-government rally dominated by Malaysian-Chinese. Najib’s government summoned China’s ambassador over his remarks ahead of the “Malay pride’ rally.

Clashes are expected again this year as thousands of anti-government demonstrators plan to protest in Kuala Lumpur on Nov. 19, calling for Najib to resign over the money-laundering scandal linked to Malaysian state investment fund, One Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

A member of UMNO’s policy-making Supreme Council, Irmohizam Ibrahim, said Najib’s deals with China have stoked concerns among party leaders.

“We’re expecting the prime minister to address these issues at our next Supreme Council meeting,” Irmohizam told Reuters.

“We will then need to go down and explain to the grassroots that … the deals are purely for the economy and trade,” said Irmohizam, who also serves as Najib’s strategic director in the party.

Malaysia’s opposition is questioning the China agreements but for different reasons, saying it is tilting the country toward Beijing.

“Malaysia’s economic dependence on any single nation is unreasonable and will affect the country’s freedom and geo-political strategy and foreign policy,” jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said in a statement issued from prison.


Najib is planning elections in the second half of 2017, a government source has told Reuters.

The investments from China could help the prime minister pump-prime Malaysia’s economy before then. A 2017 national budget Najib announced last month calls for only a modest spending rise, amid a continuing slump in commodity prices.

Senior UMNO leaders and urban Malays, however, are uncomfortable that Chinese money will drive the development of strategic assets, according to James Chin, director at the University of Tasmania’s Asia Institute.

Chin says the Malay elite welcomes Chinese investment in purely commercial deals such as property purchases, but are more wary about agreements such as a 55 billion ringgit ($13.11 billion) deal for the Chinese to develop a rail network.

“The problem with these deals is that they are seen as selling the country’s golden jewelry,” Chin said.

Ties between Malaysia and China reached a high point last December when Beijing came to Najib’s rescue with a $2.3 billion deal to buy 1MDB assets, helping ease concerns over its mounting debt.

Relations with Washington became strained after the U.S. Department of Justice filed lawsuits in July implicating the prime minister in the money-laundering probe at 1MDB, the advisory board of which Najib chaired until recently.


China and Malaysia agreed to enhance naval cooperation, after sealing the deal to buy four Littoral Mission ships, fast patrol vessels that can be equipped with a helicopter flight deck and carry missiles.

Malaysia, along with three other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei – are among the countries contesting territorial claims with China over the South China Sea. China claims nearly the entire body of water as its territory.

Najib said last month the disputes should be resolved through dialogue with Beijing.

Duterte during his visit persuaded the Chinese to let Philippine fishermen operate around a disputed shoal, before declaring his unhappiness with Washington over its criticism of his lethal antidrug campaign.

ASEAN, meanwhile, has struggled to come up with a unified position on the South China Sea disputes at its meetings.

“ASEAN will not go away… but increasingly the idea of the multilateral track will be downgraded as now we see a swing from two key claimants to a more bilateral approach,” said Euan Graham, director of the international security program at the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based think-tank.

(Editing by Praveen Menon and Bill Tarrant)

Source: Reuters “Malaysia’s Najib risks backlash at home after deals with China”

Note: This is Reuters report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.

5 Comments on “Malaysia’s Najib risks backlash at home after deals with China”

  1. johnleecan says:

    You will always see these so called patriots in every country who are spooked by other races or nationalities. They try to appear they are nationalistic but all these narrow minded people do is blah blah blah. Always playing the China or Chinese card.


  2. Joseph says:

    Yep, the American has so many sleeper agents on SE Asia that they can incite chaos to their benefits. Even as such move is no longer popular among the mass, they can still cause trouble for years to come. It will be up to the leader of each country to deal with. Just like what Indonesia did on the planned 4 Nov Jakarta riots. Government’s threat of heavy reprisal under martial law, has kept most of religious and political organizations to participate, even the pro-American ones. In the end, overwhelming security forces has prevented most the chaos. It was supposed to be the strongest anti-Chinese movement in decade, it turned out to be the triumph of Indonesia’s security forces against anarchy. We call it the phase of transition. Although in the near future, a ripple of American-provoked anti-Chinese backlash may persist, in the long run, it will only get better.


    • Steve says:

      I am still a bit unclear about the causes to the riots. Did the Chinese Christian politician mis quoted or quoted a verse form the Koran.?


      • Joseph says:

        No, he did not. The governor is brash, but he is very careful with what he said. However, there is someone called Buni Yani who made the video from cut and paste clips of many videos, word by word to sound like. It’s just like American rap song. For some misguided Moslems, it doesn’t matter if the Chinese Indonesia governor did it or not. The fact that the video exists at all, is excuse enough for them. It is a classic excuse commonly used to attack Chinese Indonesian back in the 1970s-1990s, everytime the American did something the Indonesian didn’t like and needed to divert attention. And it was exactly what for the pro-American political opponents of President Jokowi expected to attack him for his China-friendly policy. The riot itself was planned and rumored long before anyway regardless the excuse. Rumor circulating suggested that CIA fully endorse it. It was supposed to cause maximum Chinese casualties in the repeat of the 1998 riot. However, thing is not as bad as what the Western media reported, including pro-Western Indonesian English-speaking media, with only one casualty of one rioter. In fact, after the successful joint military-security operation on the 4 Nov, President Jokowi, instead, used the riot as the excuse to round up his political opponents and those clandestine Moslem organizations involved. Many have been on the defensive on who made the video and who causued the riot. After all, this is the president, who was as a city mayor, successfully de-terrorist-ised the infamous Jamaah Islamiah on the city of Solo that that he ruled. He did not crush or kill them like the American, he re-educate them to better way. And nobody ever heard of JI anymore ever since. Now no one even remember the city of Solo was once a notorious Islamic-militant city. Even the American could not deal with the JI, let alone Al-Qaeda, ISIS or any of its Frankensteins.


  3. Steve says:

    Doubt it, PM Najib will be well supported by UMNO. The so called Malay Pride is good at divide, split and conquer against non Malay racial ethnic groups. When it comes to geopolitical affairs, they are somehow lost in the confusion. With lesser interest of foreign investments from Western countries due to 1MDB, where else can Najib rely on as true friend.? The world depends on China’s economic reform and rejuvenation. Malaysia is no different and will play a far more important role for China than Singapore.