Monday, March 31, 2014

To China, cool it, please.

In the beginning, I felt great sympathy for the families in China who lost their loved ones in the MH370 tragedy.  But when their criticisms of us started to go on an overdrive, I told myself, enough is enough.  It is alright to be angry, frustrated, exasperated and suffering in anguish, but to call us "murderers", "stupid", "liars" and "inferior race", I believe it is time to draw the line.  To the celebrities who are not directly involved in the tragedy, it was really repulsive to see them egged the victims' families on when some good sense should have prevailed to try to calm the situation. Even until today, not a single shred of evidence points to the fact that the plane went down in the Indian Ocean.  It has been further confirmed that the wreckage the SAR teams picked up from the waters did not even belong to the plane.  To the Chinese, please .... cease and desist.

Here is an article written by Josh Hong.

The pains and sorrows of the anguished families of the MH370 crew and passengers deserve global sympathies. I would not use the much-abused “I know how it feels”, for I have never been in the kind of tragic situation to fully grasp and appreciate the immensity of the suffering that they have been going through for the past three weeks, and I pray earnestly that none of us would have to go through it again.

It involves 239 lives and 15 nationalities, and all of them should rightly be kept in our prayers. No more, no less.

I would even concede the Chinese families do have the right to express their grief in a hysterical manner, or to protest outside the Malaysian embassy in Beijing (with the connivance of the Chinese authorities, no doubt). If the entire Chinese citizenry wants to boycott Malaysia, I would be fine with it, too. As long as they do not put any life in danger, so be it. The Chinese have to learn to exercise their democratic right in one way or another somehow, and someday.

But when the media reports in China - from the communist mouth piece People’s Daily (and its English-language sister publication Global Times) to the Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV - highlight persistently “152 Chinese nationals on board”, it smacks of ugly nationalism and parochialism, as if the other 87 people do not count as much. That is sickening, to say the least.

I don’t think Malaysians and other nationals who have loved ones on that ill-fated flight would suffer less emotionally than the Chinese. Hence, for any media organisation to keep repeating things like “the Chinese government must do more to show that it can protect rightfully the interests of the citizens of a country that may one day exert far greater influence in the world” (according to one Phoenix TV commentator) is sheer arrogance and insensitivity.

I remember well how the Chinese media chastised their US counterparts (CNN in particular) in no uncertain terms the latter’s focus predominantly on the American victims and their families in the aftermath of the Sept 11 attacks, and rightly so.

However, I can see very clearly that in the MH370 incident, the Chinese media have failed to live up to the standards that they had demanded of the West.

For nearly three weeks, Phoenix TV and the Apple Daily in Hong Kong have been like a rumour mill, churning out sensationalising news one after another, such as “Beijing has taken over the investigations because of MAS’ incompetence”, although MAS, being a civil aviation company, has no role to play in the search and rescue operations.

The other day, a CCTV panel was still boasting about how well the Chinese navy and radars had been doing, with the “small nations in South-East Asia paling into insignificance”, and so on and so forth.

But didn’t China also make mistakes?

There is simply too much misinformation and disinformation since the crisis happened, and what the Chinese media will not tell their audiences is that MH370 has since turned into a litmus test for China’s capabilities as an emerging superpower.

Needless to say, the US has again demonstrated its superior command of a critical situation as such, and the fact that Malaysia appears to be working more closely with Washington, London and Canberra is totally unpalatable to Beijing.

A trusted trade partner

Yes, the Chinese have ample reasons to be livid. For decades, they have dumped in money and resources into cultivating closer ties, trust and goodwill with the South-East Asian countries, hoping that all these investments would one day bear fruit beyond their wildest imaginations. As far as bilateral relations are concerned, much has been achieved since the 1970s and Malaysia has long been considered as a trusted trade partner to China.

Be that as it may, power entails not only the necessary economic prowess, but also the capabilities to dictate and influence global events. In this regard, Japan and Germany serve as a good example. Both countries have for decades been the locomotive in their respective region, but neither of them has been able to play a political role that would consummate with their economic strengths.

As David Shambaugh has observed, a mere global presence does not equal having global power unless a nation can influence events in a particular region or realm, for shaping the desired outcome of a situation is the essence of influence and exercise of power.

In short, China, for all its pretense, remains nothing but a lonely giant across the world. It is defintely a global actor, but not a global power. It never really has a strategic partner in South-East Asia, let alone genuine friend. Even Myanmar, once a “staunch ally”, resorted to ‘back-stabbing’ Beijing when Yangon chose to realign itself with the US and the West several years ago.

Meanwhile, the cordial ties between Cambodia /Laos and China are only sustained by their respective autocrat, which may not survive once either Hun Sen or Choummaly Sayasone is gone.

The Philippines and Vietnam have clashed with China over territorial disputes, while Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand tread cautiously between Beijing and Washington. Still, they will more likely than not side with the US when push comes to shove.

As for the predominantly Chinese Singapore, the island state’s foreign policy has long been anchored on pragmatism, meaning that it will not deviate from the US-centric Weltanschauung so long as Washington’s political, economic, military and technological supremacy remains intact.

Like it or not, South-East Asia traditionally harbours strong suspicions towards China's ultimate intentions. Even in terms of soft power, India has historically exerted far more cultural and religious influence on Indochina and the Indonesian archipelago than China, as is easily noticed even today.

Therefore, in a region that is rather wary of or even hostile towards its charm offensive, would China want to risk losing Malaysia as a relatively friendly partner?

First in region to recognise People’s Republic

After all, Malaysia is the first country in South-East Asia that recognised the People’s Republic of China, and will soon be celebrating the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations.

In terms of foreign policy, Malaysia has taken a more balanced approached as compared to even Singapore, which has recently got on Beijing’s nerves when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong openly reminded the Chinese authorities to exercise caution in the dispute with Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.

I mean, hold Malaysia accountable by all means in the MH370 incident, but all this can be achieved without all the hype, sensationalism and unnecessary jingoism on the part of the state-sponsored Chinese media and certain officials.

If Beijing allows the anti-Malaysia sentiment to go overboard, my fear is that it would only send a very wrong message to South-East Asia as a whole, and drive the countries in the region further into the US sphere of influence, which is a self-fulfilling prophesy, no less, something that is equally undesirable to me.

But the crisis also presents Malaysia with a dilemma - do we still want to put all the eggs in one basket, banking on Chinese tourists and investors to boost our economy?

I, for one, certainly hope that the confidence of Chinese investors in Malaysia is so low that they will stop driving up property prices and enriching BN cronies at our expense.

JOSH HONG studied politics at London Metropolitan University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. A keen watcher of domestic and international politics, he longs for a day when Malaysians will learn and master the art of self-mockery, and enjoy life to the full in spite of politicians.

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