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What is it with us Malaysians? We seem to careen from one controversy to another in quick succession. Before we could even get over the Kongress Maruah Melayu issue, we were hit with the LTTE issue. And even before we can digest that, we are now confronted with the comic book issue. I wonder if any nation sees as much drama as ours; it leaves us in a state of perpetual agitation over one thing or another.

The latest controversy involves a comic book entitled, oddly enough, “Belt and Road Initiative for Win Winism.” Written by Malaysia-China Business Council CEO and former DAP stalwart Hew Kuan Yau, it seeks to promote China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Hew is, of course, no stranger to controversy, having once infamously declared that the South China Sea belonged to China, never mind that China’s claims impinge on our own territory.

The comic book was released in April this year in conjunction with Prime Minister Dr Mahahthir’s visit to Beijing to participate in the BRI Summit and Forum. Controversy arose when it was discovered that Hew had also distributed it to a number of local school libraries.

Controversy, of course, means police reports and police investigations. Hew and those who collaborated with him to produce the comic book have now been called in for questioning. Both Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and IGP Hamid Bador, however, were a little unsure of what the ruckus was all about.

Muhyiddin was quoted as saying that a preliminary report by the ministry’s security department found that “something” was wrong with the comic book and that it was appropriate for stern action against the publishers.  Hamid, for his part, said, “At the moment, we are not able to determine the offence committed” but investigations are ongoing. Stern action for “something” wrong, for an offense that the police are unable to as yet determine? Hmmm.

Leaving aside the fact that I couldn’t find the word “winism” in the English dictionary, the book by Hew is problematic for at least three reasons.

First, Hew is spectacularly wrong about the Uighur issue. He parrots the line of the Communist Party of China when he says that it is about “China’s government banning a minority of Uyghurs who are involved in a separatist movement which has threatened societal peace and harmony.”

If he had taken the time to delve deeper into the matter, he would have discovered that there is already a wealth of credible evidence that China is engaged in a massive ethnic-cleansing exercise against the Uighurs in an effort to stamp out their language, culture and religion under the flimsy pretext of acting against terrorists and separatists.

Here’s what a member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination had to say about the situation in Xinjiang: “We are deeply concerned at the many numerous and credible reports that we have received that in the name of combating religious extremism and maintaining social stability (China) has changed the Uighur autonomous region into something that resembles a massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy, a sort of ‘no rights zone’.” The UN now estimates that “up to 2 million Uighurs and Muslim minorities have been forced into political indoctrination camps in the western Xinjiang autonomous region.”

As well, it is not just a few “radical Malay youth” (as Hew put it) who are concerned about the Uighurs. Many human rights organizations and activists across the world are deeply concerned too. And let’s be clear: the Uighur issue isn’t an Islamic issue; it’s a human rights issue that ought to concern all Malaysians.

We may have our differences at home with some local Muslim leaders but it shouldn’t blind us to the terrible plight of the Uighurs. Good relations with China do not oblige us to turn a blind eye to injustice and the abuse of power.

Second, in addition to parroting China’s line on the Uighurs, the comic book also glorifies China’s signature Belt and Road Initiative. This is what the MCA used to do in its heyday and was rightly taken to task for it. There is no need for Malaysians to promote polices and initiatives of the Chinese government; that is best left to the Chinese embassy.

In any case, before glorifying BRI, let us not forget the explosive testimony that emerged from the ongoing 1MDB trial that China, in fact, aided and abetted the Najib administration in his scheme to defraud the Malaysian people of billions of ringgits. As a result, we are left with a mammoth white elephant known as ECRL.

Third, it is inappropriate for such propaganda material promoting the interest of a foreign country to be distributed to schools. The last thing we want to see happen with our already deeply flawed public schools is for it to become an avenue for the spread of PRC propaganda. Education Minister Maszlee Malik is right to have acted to keep the book out of our schools.

Hew is now defending his comic book saying that it “has already helped in improving relations between Malaysia and China.” No doubt the Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations will want to appoint Hew director of its new Comic Book Diplomacy Division. In the meantime, the Malaysia-China Business Council might want to rethink whether a controversial personality like Hew serves its interests well. What we need are not supermen but wise men to help steer our already troubled relationship with China to calmer waters.

The many DAP grassroot leaders and state assemblymen who joined the fray in defence of Hew might also want to rethink their position. The DAP has courageously championed many important national issues; this is not one of them. Their disjointed response – silence at the top, remonstrance at the bottom – suggests a party in disarray.

As well, Syed Saddiq and his own angry young men would do well to consider the damage they are doing to Pakatan Harapan (PH) by shooting at their own side just to score points with the gallery. Couldn’t the PH leadership have quickly taken a common position and acted immediately to prevent this situation from getting out of hand?  UMNO-PAS must be laughing all the way to the vote bank.

Just another day in Malaysia Baru I suppose.

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 21st October 2019]