MARCH 11 — There are many ways to spark off conversation about regional geopolitics and China spreading its tendrils across the globe with its One Belt One Road (Obor) initiative.
I just did not expect talking about Jews to be one of them.
And yet, this was how Interdisciplinary Research and International Strategy (IRIS) Institute opened its recently-launched book titled Pen’China’an Malaysia: Tergadaikah Tanah Kedaulatan Bangsa? (The Sinicisation of Malaysia: Is the Nation’s Sovereign Land Being Auctioned Off?).
In its first chapter, the Islamist lobby-affiliated research group pointed at the centuries-old Jewish diaspora in China, the role of old money families such as the Rockefellers and the Rothschilds in boosting China’s economy, and the modern-day China-Israel ties.
When asked about this matter after the launch on Wednesday, IRIS chief executive Syed Ahmad Israa’ Ibrahim conceded how such a chapter would look like to the general public.
“Many on their first impressions would say this is a conspiracy theory but we based this on research and pattern. It is something for us to discuss together,” he told Malay Mail.
“Our narrative is: if before this Malaysians were afraid that Americans are coming here bringing in their Jewish agenda, we say that actually there is Jewish interest in China as well,” he added, calling the Jewish elites “a threat to global population” due to their wealth.
But I digress. For the most part, the book serves as a convenient primer to China’s interests in Malaysia for those who are too lazy to do their own research.
At least three out of its five chapters are comprehensive although speculative: suggesting Obor’s role as a way for China to control the world, the economy and natural resources, and its link to China’s military strategy.
The concern over China’s ambition is definitely valid, especially when Malaysia is essentially a minnow when compared to the global superpowers.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that China’s credit to its allies as part of the Obor — with total deals estimated at US$8 trillion (RM31 trillion) — has left eight economies financially vulnerable.
The countries, as listed by global think tank Center for Global Development are: Djibouti, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, the Maldives, Mongolia, Montenegro, Pakistan, and Tajikistan.
If anything, IRIS Institute’s work is much more interesting among its other Islamist counterparts, with its focus on geopolitics and international conflicts.
It does lend some credibility towards the lobby’s shift in recent years to move beyond national issues to topics such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and now, the Obor.
And yet, it is slightly disappointing that in the end, their research — from the history of the Malay civilisation, Chinese and Western influence in historical Tanah Melayu and later Malaysia — could not escape the ethno-nationalist constraint that is championed by the ilks of Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma).
“Sinicisation” as it is widely used refers to the spread of Chinese influence among non-Chinese societies, especially when it comes to culture, and specifically the Han Chinese.
The concept discussed by the book is much more sinister, of an attempt at world domination and invasion.
Furthermore, the discourse that transpired during the book’s launch — either deliberately or not — was muddled by racism and discrimination, considering that the ethnic Chinese which have long been Malaysian citizens, were also chastised, despite them being threatened by China nationals as well.
Having Isma’s deputy Abdul Rahman Mat Dali launching the book inevitably set the tone of the discourse; that when talking about the sovereignty under threat from China, they did not mean Malaysian sovereignty, but instead Malay-Muslim supremacy.
Taking a cue from another problematic chapter of the book that suggested the Chinese diaspora as a tool for China to increase its influence in Malaysia, Abdul Rahman questioned the allegiance of the ethnic Chinese community here and alluded to their “natural” tribal ties with China.
As an example, he claimed that during the Malayan Emergency — against the Malayan National Liberation Army, the military arm of the Malayan Communist Party — “merely 200” ethnic Chinese joined the fight.
“They made such a noise as if they fought together, in the elite force and so on,” he mockingly told the press.
Of course, the same sentiment was earlier shared by cleric Ismail Mina Ahmad in January, who asserted that only the Malays had battled the Communists. Ismail is the chairman of the Ummah umbrella group for Muslim organisations, of which Isma is a member.
At the book launch, Malay rights group Perkasa also expressed fears that the Chinese may overpower the majority Malays soon, alleging a “unity” between the minority groups in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and the Mainland Chinese.
The controversial concept of “Nam Tien” was also repeatedly brought up. Originally, it is a Vietnamese term literally meaning “South march” which generally refers to a southward expansion of Vietnamese territory from its original heartland in the Red River Delta between the 11th and 18th century.
In recent years, it has been used by the lobby to refer to a spread of Chinese population from China, southwards to South-east Asia, along the way eradicating the Muslim population starting from the Champa Kingdom — which they claim are the ancestors of Malays here.
This was popularised by folk historian Zaharah Sulaiman at an Islamist symposium in 2013, where she extended the Nam Tien to include the “invasion” of the Chinese into the Malay archipelago, which she claimed was backed by foreign Western powers who had then stripped the ancient Malay peoples of their riches and knowledge.
In recent months, we have seen a renewed campaign meant to stir up Malay sentiments ahead of the general elections.
We are in a unique situation where the status quo is pro-China, while Pakatan Harapan has included in its manifesto one of its “10 Pledges in 100 Days” to review mega projects awarded to foreign countries; we have to be careful to not scapegoat our own Chinese community.
There should be no question about the Chinese community’s loyalty towards Malaysia. Nor should they be expected to show allegiance towards the Malay-Muslim cause.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.