Malaysian Chinese – Indispensable Partner and Shaper of Malaysia’s Destiny

Extracts of paper submitted by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Petaling, Lim Kit Siang, to the DAP National Chinese Education Seminar in Port Dickson on Sunday, 21st June 1981 at 9 a.m. on “The Future of the Malaysian Chinese”

Malaysian Chinese – Indispensable Partner and Shaper of Malaysia’s Destiny

There has recently been considerable soul-searching among the Malaysian Chinese about their place and future in Malaysia. Some, particularly the professionals like doctors, have despaired, sold their practice uprooted their families and emigrated. The overwhelming majority, however, cannot and would not emigrate. They have either to secure their rightful and honourable place in Malaysia by exercising their rights and accepting their responsibilities as Malaysian citizens, or be treated as being less than equal.

Whatever the agonies and dilemmas being faced by the Malaysian Chinese, there is no reason for the Malaysian Chinese to despair. For Malaysia is a unique multi-racial nation, where unlike, Indonesia, Philippines or even Thailand, no single race is a majority race. Malaysia is in fact a nation of minorities.

As such, as the second largest minority in Malaysia, the Chinese are an indispensable partner and shaper of Malaysia’s destiny. In Malaysia, no one race can impose its will arbitrarily on another, without tearing the whole fabric of Malaysian society apart.

Malaysia can achieve greatness, and assure for her people of diverse races progress, prosperity and happiness arising from equality and justice, if there is the closest co-operation, understanding and commonness among the major races in the country, namely the Malays, the Chinese, Indians, Ibans and Kadazans.

If the carious races distrust each other, or any one race belabor under an abiding sense of grievance, then Malaysia will be retarded from achieving the full flowering of her destiny in enjoying progress, prosperity, unity and equity.

Ever since Merdeka, the Chinese in Malaysia have an increasingly deepened and abiding sense of grievance, that they have not been able to fully develop their talents and abilities for the betterment of the country, or allowed to fully identify and belong to Malaysia.

As a result, some Chinese have become very apologetic of being Chinese, and shrink from asserting and insisting their fully citizenship rights, to participate fully in the process of determining and shaping Malaysia’s destiny,

I believe that this is unhealthy, and that Malaysia can only achieve the full flowering of her nationhood and greatness if all radial groups can fully play their role as equal citizens to jointly chart the future destiny of Malaysia.

In a way, the Malaysian Chinese of this generation are paying the price of the failure or shortsightedness of the earlier generations.

In 1978, the tragedy of the Vietnamese refugees made a deep human impression, but the lesson of why 500,000 Vietnamese had to put their lives at peril – and 250,000 were drowned in the South China Sea together with their gold bars – should not be lost on all Malaysians: that they paid the price for the failures or political indifference of an earlier generation.

Similarly, in Malaysia, the Chinese today are paying the price of either the political indifference of an earlier generation or the politics of money of those who claim to represent the Chinese interest but who had consistently compromised the basic rights and interests of the Malaysian Chinese for continues opportunities by a few wealthy Chinese to wax richer.

Thus after the Japanese occupation, when the British colonial government introduced the Malayan Union proposals in 1946, there were complete apathy among the Chinese. The Malays, on the other hand, organised themselves politically into UMNO to oppose the Malayan Union proposals which they condemn as destroying the Malay place in the country.

Although the British, and in particular Sir MacMichael used questionable methods to wring signatures and agreement from the Malay Sultans to the Malayan Union proposals, and there were proposals which were unacceptable to the Malays, e.g. those which eroded the position of the Sultans and threatened the Malay special rights, there is no doubt that if the Malaysian Chinese had organised themselves politically, they could have preserved Malayan Union proposals which would have laid the basis for a health their Malaysian society.

Thus, one of the Malayan Union proposals was that every person born in Malaya or Singapore, regardless of ethnic affiliations, have equal rights to common citizenship.

In the event, in the face of apathy of and lack of political consciousness of the Chinese, the Malayan Union proposals were completely rejected in the face of strong Malay opposition. Thus, it had been observed that “although the Chinese were the race that would gain most by the creation of a common citizenship, it cannot be said that they greeted the proposals with any particular enthusiasm”.

A great opportunity was lost in 1946, which if it had been seized, would have expedited the process of multi-racial nation building.

Again, in the pre-Merdeka constitutional talks and negotiations, where the British colonial government made it plain that independence would not be granted until such time as the various racial groups in Malaya had proved that they could work together in harmony, there were MCA leaders who were prepared to disregard the basic and legitimate aspirations of the Chinese as co-owners of the country so that they could perpetuate their class interest. In fact, in his weekly columns in the Star, the first Prime Minister, Tengku Abdul Rahman, wrote of how in the 1954 London talks on Malaya’s independence, the MCA’s representative, T.H.Tan, refused even to open the letters and correspondence he received from home on the legitimate aspirations of the Chinese in an independent nation.

Ever since independence, with the MCA as the component party, the Chinese never had a genuine voice in government which articulated not Chinese chauvinist demands, but moderate and legitimate aspirations of the Chinese as citizens of a multi-racial policy, i.e. Malaya and later Malaysia.

As a result, the Malaysian Chinese today are paying the price both for the political apathy of their earlier generation in the1940s and early fifties and the selfishness and self-centredness of the Chinese tycoons, compradores and rich who dominate the MCA ever since Merdeka – joined in 1972 be Gerakan which proved more interested in displacing MCA in UMNO’s favours.

Whether politically, economically, educationally, culturally or socially, the Chinese in Malaysia feel hemmed in besieged. Why is this so?