Malaysia’s Najib risks backlash at home after deals with China
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – 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. [restrict]
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
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. [/restrict]