In Malaysia, fake news about citizenship for Chinese stokes racial tensions

Stoking some of the underlying ethnic tensions in Malaysia:

Malaysia’s National Registration Department (NRD) on Monday lodged a police report against several social media users for falsely accusing the department of indiscriminately granting citizenship to Chinese nationals.

Fake news that mainland Chinese were being granted Malaysian identification cards has been circulating on social media for the past month, the latest in a series of attempts to stoke racial tensions at a time when the relations between ethnic Chinese Malaysians and indigenous Malays “are at their lowest ebb”, according to an expert.

“The information spread through social media is false, and the report is to enable the police to conduct a thorough investigation,” NRD director general Ruslin Jusoh told reporters at a press conference to announce the police report.

He dismissed claims that the NRD discriminates by granting Malaysian citizenship to certain foreign nationals.

“This is not true and for the record, we do not choose applicants based on their ancestry or nationality in granting them Malaysian citizenship,” Ruslin said.

The social media posts, spread mainly via Facebook and Twitter, featured pictures of alleged Chinese nationals on a blue Malaysian identification card. The blue card, known as MyKad, is only issued to Malaysian citizens.

A mainland Chinese woman, who has been married to a Malaysian for almost 20 years and was granted citizenship in the Southeast Asian nation, was the subject of one of the posts.

“The person is a spouse to a Malaysian national and has fulfilled all the requirements to be a citizen based on … the Federal Constitution and that qualified her application for the citizenship,” Ruslin said, adding that it is not easy to obtain Malaysian citizenship.

He said Indonesians made up the largest group of foreign wives who were granted Malaysian citizenship.

Political analyst Azmi Hassan warned that the viral posts were intended to create the perception that it was the current government’s plan to grant citizenship to foreigners, a move that would create distrust toward the ruling Pakatan Harapan government among Malays.

“When news regarding foreigners getting citizenship are circulated as if it is true, the strategy is to create a perception that it is the policy of the current government … and no doubt to create uneasiness since the relationship between Malaysian Chinese and the indigenous Malays are at their lowest ebb right now,” Azmi said.

“The end result is that the Malays will not trust the government … and the Malays’ [feeling] that they are losing the country to foreigners is becoming real.”

Ethnic Chinese comprise an estimated 22 per cent of the country’s 32 million people, while Malay-Muslims make up more than 60 per cent of the population.

Political analyst Azmi said the mainland Chinese citizenship hoax had been cleverly done to look real.

“This strategy of foreigners getting MyKad or citizenship has been used numerous times … but no doubt it is very effective when foreigners and sovereignty are lumped together,” he said.

MP Lim Lip Eng from the Democratic Action Party (DAP), which is part of the Pakatan Harapan coalition, has found himself a victim of the fake social media posts.

A WhatsApp message that appeared months earlier, accusing him of registering mainland Chinese for citizenship in his constituency in Kepong district in the country’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, recently went viral again.

“That WhatsApp [message] is a fake. It resurfaced a month ago,” Lim told the South China Morning Post. “The current atmosphere of fear and tension of racial and religious divides in Malaysia is at the tipping point. Any incident can be twisted into a racial or religious issue, no matter how fake it is.”

The DAP has of late faced a barrage of fake news depicting the party as unpatriotic, anti-Malay and anti-Muslim.

“DAP, a predominantly Chinese-based party, is and will always be targeted by the opposition, the racists and religious extremists when they plot to stoke racial and religious issues,” Lim said.

DAP’s secretary general Lim Guan Eng was in 2018 appointed the country’s first ethnic Chinese Finance Minister in 44 years after Pakatan Harapan staged an upset to win the general elections.

The appointment of ethnic Chinese to strategic positions in the government has caused unease with certain segments of the Malay-Muslim populace, according to political analyst Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani of BowerGroupAsia.

“There is still distrust among the Malay community with Chinese leaders in Pakatan Harapan. The fake [identification] issue will only validate their racial narratives,” Asrul said. “This is an attempt to stoke racial sentiment and legitimise the narrative that the Chinese are pendatangs [foreigners or immigrants] in this country.”

While the country’s Penal Code has provisions to deal with insults delivered with intent to provoke a breach of the peace, it does not have specific legislation against racism – something Lim from the DAP wants to see changed.

“I have told the Pakatan Harapan government to rein in fake news by the freewheeling social and printed media with tougher penalties before Malaysia is out of order and the economy plummets,” he said. “The cabinet must come out with plans to criminalise racism and religious hatred.”

Azmi, the political analyst, said Malaysia’s 62-year existence as a multiracial nation has been held together by mutual trust and co-operation between the different races.

“It does concern me … with all the fake news circulating, I’m afraid that the bond that binds us together will be broken and if this happens, it is going to take a long time to mend it and Malaysia will be at the losing end,” he said.

Source: In Malaysia, fake news about citizenship for Chinese stokes racial tensions

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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