Since the news about an arms transfer from China to Malaysia first broke on The Malaysian Insight the issue has become much muddier.
First, after a number of mainstream media publications quickly jumped on the bandwagon to carry the report, it emerged that the news itself was unverified, linked only to one unnamed and unknown source.
Since then, several of those same news outlets have reported that Malaysia’s armed forces said they have received no such offer from China with the Treasury secretary-general even saying “This is the first time I’m hearing of this.”
Amid all the confused reporting, mixed sentiments and several narratives towards the news emerged.
China pushing Singapore
Some have said that the deal was another example of China pushing Singapore for being rigid in its position towards China and the South China Sea dispute, and wanting to punish or show strength towards the small island nation.
This would be consistent with other recent reporting, such as Chinese diplomats telling Reuters “China thinks Singapore, as a Chinese-majority nation, should listen a bit more to Beijing.”
Malaysia used as a Chinese pawn
Others have talked about how it might now Malaysia’s turn to be careful: they might eventually pay the price for readily accepting Chinese arms and becoming a Chinese pawn.
China has shown an interest in ethnically Chinese populations around the world, whether in Hong Kong and Taiwan which it considers its own or in other countries, including Malaysia and Singapore. Malaysia’s Chinese population forms the second largest ethnic group in Malaysia, and its relationship with the ruling bumiputera class of Malay Malaysians has been fraught for decades. Chinese Malaysians are often made to feel like they are second-class citizens in their own home, because they are deprived of the many rights and privileges accorded to bumiputeras (“sons of the soil”).
Clashes over this issue have already emerged, with Malay groups protesting the ground-breaking ceremony of a Chinese railway project in Malaysia .
One prominent Malaysian was quoted to have said, “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”.
Malaysia deliberately provocative on Singapore’s National Day
And, of course, there was the large group of netizens who noted that this whole fuss took place on… Singapore’s National Day.
This is hardly surprising; Singaporeans are used to this annual tradition by now, with Malaysia feeling like it has to find some way to ‘poke’ Singapore right around its day of Independence. It doesn’t seem like anyone was rattled, though, especially after the impressive display of the SAF’s latest equipment, spanning air, land and sea, during the National Day Parade.
And hey, Indonesia, you better worry about these rockets too – if reports about their range being 220km are correct, that means that from Johor they can reach all the way to your mainland already!
We shall continue to watch as the drama unfolds…