On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Malaysians want to see swift action taken

The preliminary details have emerged: we now know that the incident happened at the changing room of the Petaling Jaya police station and that the woman in uniform is a police constable.

Although we should not prejudge the case, we also need to highlight some basic facets of proper human behaviour.

In the one-minute video clip, now widely circulated on the Internet and mobile phones, the woman is shown standing naked in a room with some lockers.

After doing 10 ear squats, the woman is seen putting her bra back on and looking disturbed as she appears to be aware that someone else was watching. It is likely that the recording was made by someone with a cellphone outside the room through a grilled window.

It does not matter whether the victim had been arrested for vice or had violated immigration rules. The bottom line is that no one should be subjected to such humiliation.

If she had committed an offence, she should have been deported or charged in court. It is not the business of the police or immigration to order her to do ear squats.

If it can happen to this woman, it can happen to any one of us, including our sisters and daughters.

The timing of the video is certainly bad as the media in China have, of late, been telling their people to avoid Malaysia as a tourist destination. From crimes to poor treatment of Chinese visitors at airports, Malaysia has found itself at the wrong end of bad press.

Complaints by three Chinese women that they were forced to strip and then ogled at by male officers were deemed serious enough to be brought to the Cabinet's attention.

What was more unfortunate was that the police did not stop there – they allegedly harassed the women by going to their apartments at 2 in the morning purportedly to check whether they were with their husbands and living at the addresses provided.

To make matters worse, there were also newspaper reports that 50,000 Chinese nationals who entered Malaysia this year had apparently failed to leave the country, based on the shortfall in entry cards returned upon the visitors' departure.

The reports claimed that those missing may be working illegally, are involved in vice, or have moved on to a third country with a forged passport.

The figures have now been challenged. A cursory look at the statistics of foreign arrivals and departures available on the immigration website showed wide discrepancies in arrival/departure figures for all nationalities, and not just the Chinese nationals.

The Government has taken these developments seriously as the Cabinet is aware that if the matter is not properly handled, it can lead to a diplomatic problem with serious implications.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has responded quickly by sending Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Azmi Khalid to China to clear any misconception that Malaysian authorities have been targeting Chinese nationals, especially women, coming to Malaysia.

There is no doubt that many Chinese women have entered Malaysia for vice activities. This year alone, Chinese women accounted for half the 4,900 foreign women nabbed for vice.

Malaysian housewives have even complained to the Wanita MCA to act against these women, saying marriages had been broken when their husbands fell for these Chinese nationals.

Traders have also complained of poor enforcement by the municipal councils against their Chinese competitors who set up stalls to sell their wares openly at various spots in major towns with predominant Chinese populations.

Given a population of more than one billion, there are bound to be such "tourists" that we can do without. As Pak Lah said, the immigration can ask them logical questions but they should not be hurtful. In short, don't lump them in one basket.

The fact is that there are plenty of affluent Chinese tourists who now stay at five-star hotels and shop at expensive shops. Malaysia wants to attract these upmarket tourists, who spent an estimated RM1.33bil in the country last year, the third largest exchange contributors after Singaporeans and Thais.

But the bad press about their purported ill-treatment in Malaysia has resulted in the number of Chinese tourists dropping drastically. Only 202,620 Chinese tourists arrived here between January and August this year, compared with more than 387,000 in the same period last year. This drop of 47.8% is expected to decline further.

On Oct 2, I wrote in my column that Malaysia was trailing badly in the competition to attract the Chinese nationals and the dipping statistics were a cause for concern. One major source of unhappiness was the hassle these tourists had to face at immigration including at the KL International Airport.

MCA public services and complaints department chief Datuk Michael Chong said he had received many complaints of bona fide Chinese visitors including investors encountering difficulties.

One Chinese businessman threatened to close down his KL branch office which employed over 200 Malaysian workers after suffering "loss of face" from alleged harsh treatment by immigration officers while a Chinese shipper, one of the biggest in the world, was outraged when his 60-year-old wife was denied entry.

So serious was the matter that it was referred to a Cabinet minister for action.

As Minister in the Prime Minister's Depart- ment Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said, the video clip proved what several Chinese women had previously alleged was true and not made up.

Malaysia now faces an uphill task in competing with new destinations, particularly European countries, which have stepped up their campaign to woo them.

Like the Arab tourists, who now shun the United States and Europe because they have been profiled as undesirable visitors, we have to try harder to win the Chinese tourists back.

Even Malaysian Muslims have found themselves discriminated against in many Western countries because of their names, giving the perception that they are considered terrorist suspects.

Tourist ringgit aside, we must make sure there is no economic and political fallout from continuous negative reports in China. We need China's huge market much more than they need us.

Any retaliation, even in the mildest form, will have serious effects on us.

Azmi has correctly proposed hiring immigration officers who can speak Mandarin on contract basis at the KLIA and the decision to use Mandarin to announce flight details is in the right direction. It will certainly help if a Deputy Tourism Minister who can speak the language is appointed.

Meantime, Malaysians want to see swift action taken against the culprits in the naked ear squats episode. They must not be allowed to slip away from their shameful act.