Too good to be true?
statement alluding to protecting local Chinese in the face of the Red Shirt rally, this presented an awkward situation for many Malaysian Chinese. Having a foreign entity speak up for my rights made me rather indignant at this gesture.
First, the notion that the relationship with China will draw attention to the rights of ethnic Chinese at home already takes a rather narrow-minded view. If we were concerned about minority rights, we should also be looking out for the interests of all minorities including the orang asli, Indians and indigenous people of Sabah and Sarawak.
Second, China has faced international criticism over its failure to promote good governance and human rights in countries it has invested heavily in, including several countries in Africa. In the past, its policy of non-interference in domestic politics – and hence also its looking past dismal human rights practices within those countries – lent weight to the argument that China was only interested in economic returns and geopolitical self-interest.
Of course, there are always counter arguments, one of which is that China has in fact contributed to development aid for health and education initiatives, apart from infrastructural projects, in poor countries.
A study by AidData, an organisation specialising in global development aid research, stated that Chinese aid is strongly oriented towards poorer countries. But Malaysia is apparently no longer stuck in the middle-income trap, according to Pemandu (Performance Management and Delivery Unit), where Malaysia is reportedly only 15% away from the high-income economy benchmark.
But the main questions that all Malaysians should be asking the government should have much more to do with the welfare of the nation as a whole, not nitpicking about which ethnic community is going to benefit more out of this.
For instance, how might domestic economic policy change as a result of Chinese state-owned enterprises flocking the market? Most of the 14 deals signed are with Chinese SOEs, and this will most certainly have an impact on our public procurement policy. Based on the deals, it looks like the government will be awarding procurement contracts to foreign Chinese companies as opposed to local companies. If the selection is done based on merit and quality, then well and good.
In fact, one of the most controversial chapters in the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) that Malaysia signed earlier this year was precisely that of public procurement. Malaysia successfully negotiated that a substantial portion of government procurement would be exclusively for bumiputra contractors, to be lowered over time. Are we in fact making exceptions for mainland Chinese companies?
Further, will these new deals be subject to provisions under the TPPA, particularly those related to governance of procurement – will the procurement processes be non-discriminatory, standardised and transparent? Will there be open and competitive tenders? Will the firms be subject to domestic review procedures under a to-be-established procurement review authority?
Second, how will this relationship change Malaysia’s geopolitical positioning vis-à-vis South China Sea? Will this influence Malaysia’s voice in siding with China against its neighbouring Asean countries over any sea and land dispute that takes place? In fact, would this bilateral relationship with China affect regional trade agreements like the Asean Free Trade Area