The implications of a Sep. 25 visit by Huang Huikang, China’s ambassador, to the epicenter of the Chinese community in Kuala Lumpur to cool off rising racial tensions are spreading and manifold, with what observers regard as troubling international overtones.
Domestically, the affair has demonstrated the impotence of the Malaysian Chinese Association, the biggest ethnic Chinese party in the ruling national coalition and showcased government fumbling as well.
According to some observers, it is also a demonstration to the region that China, a rising and restless superpower, will not hesitate to act to protect the interests of ethnic Chinese, wherever they happen to be – nationals or not. China is Malaysia’s second-largest trading partner and could be its biggest if goods transshipped through Singapore are counted.
Huang told local reporters that “with regard to the infringement on China’s national interests, violations of legal rights and interests of Chinese citizens and businesses which may damage the friendly relationship between China and the host country, we will not sit by idly.”
Beijing Says It’s Fine with Us
While that might be regarded as a freelance, impulsive action by an envoy worried about the welfare of members of his race, he was later backed up with a statement from Beijing, an indication that the step was hardly impulsive.
While China has long practiced – officially at least – the “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence” consisting of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence,” those principles are increasingly strained in the South China Sea with Beijing’s island-building campaign which is intruding on the exclusive economic zones of the Philippines, Vietnam and potentially Indonesia.
Huang’s action, although relatively mild and minor, is being regarded by critics as a disturbing example of the new assertiveness that was demonstrated on a larger scale and a larger stage on Sept. 24 in New York, when President Xi Jinping told the United Nations that China will contribute 8,000 troops for a UN peacekeeping standby force, giving it a dramatic new role as one of the largest forces in UN peacekeeping efforts.
Just a week ago, China joined Malaysia for the first Association of Southeast Asian Nations joint military exercise, sending 1,000 Chinese troops. There has also been a rising Chinese economic presence, with the Guangdong provincial government announcing recently that it intended to develop Melaka, now a sleepy coastal town, into a seaport to rival Singapore and build a series of industrial parks.