Author Archives: wcw

Let’s not go overboard

Malaysia is a secular country and we should not let religious authorities run our country and how we should live our lives.

LET’S face it – the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) has become so powerful as the sole authority in deciding whether any product is regarded as halal that no manufacturers would dare to go against this religious body.

The fact is that the country’s Muslim population has increased and Muslim consumers prefer religiously safe and clean products, properly certified by Jakim.

It is a lucrative market and manufacturers want the halal label to ensure that their products are accepted by Muslim consumers.

The wait for the Jakim approval takes up to six months, if the manufacturers are lucky as it can be longer if there are questions raised. Surprise location checks are included as well.

There are also overseas visits to inspect how foreign suppliers transport ingredients to ensure the logistic process itself complies with the halal standard.

Even mineral water suppliers want the Jakim logo. If it’s water straight from the pipe, it’s straight forward but if the manufacturers claim that their product is mineral water, then Jakim will insist on knowing for sure there is no animal bone matter involved in the process of extraction.

Jakim, in previous interviews, has said they were short-handed and stood up against allegations that they were a money-making machine.

There have been too many stories hurled against them but to be fair, they remain hearsay and accusations.

The reality is that winning over pious Muslim consumers in the global market is estimated to be worth US$2.3tril (RM10tril) a year.

It has been reported that Malaysia’s halal exports are expected to grow over 19% to RM50bil this year from RM42bil in 2015, leveraging on intensive promotions from industry stakeholders.

Malaysian Investment Development Authority (Mida) chief executive officer Datuk Azman Mahmud said the halal industry was fast becoming an important source of revenue and growth as attracting foreign direct investment in the halal business (products and services) would help increase exports.

The global halal foods market alone was estimated at US$693bil (RM3.1tril) while Malaysia’s annual demand for halal foods was valued at RM1.7bil, he said, adding that in the food manufacturing industry, mostly halal food production, more than 1,437 projects worth RM29.3bil had been implemented, creating 99,000 jobs.

In Indonesia, many other items are reportedly touted as halal, like computer mouse, headscarves and even shirt buttons.

There is even halal cat food over there as Muslim owners want their furry friends to follow the same dietary restrictions as they do.

An Indonesian paint manufacturer, Bernahal Paint, is advertising that its wall paint is halal, claiming its material is lard free.

The Indonesian counterpart of Jakim is the Indonesian Ulema Council Food and Drugs Supervisory Agency while in Singapore, the Islamic Religious Council (Muis).

But Muslims are now asking if businesses are commercialising religion and halal matters by promoting what Muslims should use and consume.

Is the line being pushed too far? Even Jakim expressed surprise when a manufacturer of middle-eastern dates asked for a halal certification – I mean dates are dates, and they are a fruit after all.

In an interview with the Straits Times in Singapore, Perlis mufti Datuk Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin was quoted as saying that “Muslims are required to eat halal but the problem is when people practise religion beyond the nature of Islam itself.

“Traders are commercialising religion and halal by promoting what Muslims should use and consume,” he added.

In a press report, such commercial uses of the label have spurred a group of auditors, including Muslim Singaporeans, to form a new association to help governments certify manufacturers using halal guidelines and standard practices.

One of the initiators, Imran Musa, reportedly said they aimed to quash “halal extremism” and set the record straight on what is “genuinely halal and good.”

“Having unnecessarily stricter rules towards halal will lead to halal extremism,” he asked, saying “who would have thought of halal paint and halal tudung?”

“Halal extremism is slowly creeping in as some clerics impart their own judgment, hence making halal more stringent.”

The reality is that currently, halal certification has no universally accepted standard, with different countries imposing varying interpretations of the Islamic rules for what is permissible.

In Malaysia, with our multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-cultural make up, many non-Muslims are saying that the push for halal requirements is going too far.

Many referred to reports of the proposal to have different trolleys in supermarkets for Muslim and non-Muslim shoppers, for example.

Then, there is the much publicised controversy over Jakim’s insistence that the word “Pretzel dog” be scrapped as it would give the impression to Muslims that “hot dog” contains dog meat.

Pretzel store franchise Auntie Anne caved in, despite a public outcry, and it humbly changed its “Pretzel Dog” to “Pretzel Sausage” in order to receive the prized halal certification.

And now, fast food giant McDonald’s has found itself in the news when its directive to stop non-halal birthday cakes from being brought into their outlets emerged.

McDonald’s, as a business entity, is entitled to carry out its own policies. It issued an apology to customers for the mis­under­standing but at the same time, it noted that such a policy was also practised in Singapore.

To be fair, some cakes do contain liquor including some servings of the ever-popular tiramisu cake. Many Malaysians may not realise it but most ice cream outlets in the country no longer offer the liquor-laced rum and raisin flavour.

But there is an issue here over Jakim’s authority, given that it is a halal-certification authority. So, does it not mean its authority is confined to only food served at F&B outlets but not the premises itself?

If this continues, it will open the floodgates for more areas, like public transportation vehicles, cinemas, entertainment outlets and schools, to be classified along halal and non-halal lines.

For example, when the now-defunct Rayani Air was launched, it was more concerned with selling itself as a fully syariah-compliant airline but less than four months after its launch, it was grounded for safety audit reasons. Many talked about its halal status and not about the most important aspect –its safety.

While we must be aware of the sensitivity of Muslims over dietary matters, we must be mindful that directives made should not segregate the people along religious lines, especially at a time when there is a need to enhance unity in the face of rising extremism.

As Malaysia turns 60 this year, it is time we reflect and think about the path we are taking as a nation. Whether we wish to admit it or not, Malaysia is a secular country and we should not let religious authorities run our country, including how we should live our lives.

The job of administering our country belongs to elected politicians and not clerics, of any religion and race.

It will be a helluva ride!

Expect 2017 to be a busy year as the general election might be held. Also, Hadi’s Bill will come up again, we will celebrate our 60th birthday, and host the SEA Games.

FASTEN your seat belts. Get ready for a roller coaster ride. A political roller coaster that is, as 2017 is set to be a super eventful year.

With the general election speculated to be held this year – most popularly thought to be in September, as of now at least – the competing political parties are set to kick off their campaigns over the coming months.

And whether we like it or not, everything will be political. The new year will start off with a bang all right.

Even the first quarter of 2017 is set to be a hot period.

The proposed amendments to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 – commonly known as RUU355 in its Bahasa Malaysia abbreviation – is still unresolved and it’s expected to crop up again when Parliament reconvenes in March.

The Private Member’s Bill, tabled by Marang MP Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, was read out a second time last November to include several tweaks to the Bill that the PAS president read out for the first time the previous meeting.

It is set to be a contentious issue that has rattled Barisan Nasional component parties, with Umno seeing the Bill as merely a way to enhance punishments under Syariah laws while many other Barisan component parties see it as a back-door effort to implement hudud laws.

Many non-Muslim Barisan leaders are also asking why they should be supporting a Bill initiated by an opposition party.

The Government has said that the Cabinet will set up a Parliamentary Select Committee that will involve Muslim and non-Muslim MPs to study the complicated matters in the proposed amendments, especially those related to the separation of powers between the civil and Syariah courts.

But Abdul Hadi is not sitting idly by. He has served notice that the Islamist party will hold a “monster” rally to garner support for the Bill.

“God willing, PAS will organise a himpunan aman raksasa (peaceful monster gathering) representing Muslims from various political parties and NGOs, including those who supported the Bill. Wait and see,” he told a press conference at Parliament lobby here.

Although the date has yet to be confirmed, Abdul Hadi said it could be held before the new Parliament session kicks off in March.

The PAS president also reportedly likened the non-Muslim MPs to Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as Ahok, for openly criticising the Bill which governs the lives of Muslims. Ahok is currently on trial for allegedly insulting the Quran.

“Unfortunately, the amendment has shown how non-Muslim politicians try to interfere in matters pertaining to the Muslims and the Rulers,” he said.

In Jakarta, following the mammoth protest by Islamist groups, a huge gathering to promote diversity and tolerance was held to counter the earlier gathering.

It will also be a busy year for Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng as his trial over his two corruption charges involving his RM2.8mil double-storey house along Jalan Pinhorn in Penang starts in March.

High Court judge Hadhariah Syed Ismail has fixed the hearing for both cases to start from March 27 to 31, April 10 to 14, April 24 to 28, May 15 to 19, May 29 to June 2, June 13 to 16 and July 17 to 21.

The prosecution and defence teams have been ordered to submit all relevant documents for the cases by Jan 6.

Malaysia is celebrating its 60th National Day on Aug 31 this year and we can be sure that the Government will use the occasion to pump up patriotic sentiments ahead of the polls.

The country will host the SEA Games in August where certainly, the cheers for Malaysia will be the loudest.

It is a whole month of celebrations, with plenty of feel-good factors being pushed into the air, as we enter into September for the Malaysia Day celebrations.

As the region focuses its eyes on Malaysia, Line 2 of the MRT project would have started following the completion of the 51km Sungai Buloh-Kajang line in December 2016.

It will be an impressive sight as modern transportation in the Greater Klang Valley begins operations and this will surely be a pride of Malaysia.

The country’s biggest convention and exhibition centre at Mitec at KL Metropolis at Jalan Haji Sultan Ahmad Shah in Kuala Lumpur will also open this year.

Bigger than the Putra World Trade Centre, the site will be used for the SEA Games – this is certainly set to be a new icon for our Kuala Lumpur.

An impressive line-up of international events have already been planned for 2017 even before the official opening of this complex – which is shaped like the rubber seed, which has benefitted Malaysia tremendously.

By then, the Election Commission’s re-delineation exercise – which critics of the government claimed was a gerrymandering exercise to benefit the ruling party – would have been completed.

If no polls are called by then, the GE will most probably be held in 2018, as it will be too near the monsoon season.

Do expect 2017 to be a busy year as the political players will swing into action early. Political twists and turns will be aplenty and these can be expected ahead of the polls. Make sure your belts are tied – expect the unexpected.

You can’t say you have not been warned.

A toast to 2017

Yep, 2016 is drawing to a close. And like some others who want to better themselves in the new year, I have some pointers for myself too. So, here goes ….

MY 10 New Year Resolutions (that will probably be not kept):

No 1: I will not be addicted to my mobile phone anymore

I have a confession to make – I am addicted to my mobile phone. It’s bad enough that I am a news junkie. I am also a phone junkie. I can’t live without this gadget. My wife has always complained that I “play” with my phone all hours of the day.

But I tell her that I am working, not playing. After all, I need to be on the alert. I am ‘on’ 24/7 – the ultimate newsman. I am a news cop – breathing, eating and dreaming news. Cops sleep with their gun under their pillow but I sleep with my Samsung phone right next to me.

Don’t play, play. News is no longer just in the print format but also online, on Twitter and Facebook, in video, on Star TV and radio channels. It’s news, news and more news.

But the wife has thrown in a dampener: Wake up lah, don’t be so drama! You are no longer the group chief editor. Stop bluffing yourself lah. But hey, I am still a journalist. And will always be one.

I am still working in a news media group and I must be on top of things.

Information from all channels comes in fast! A plane hijack, a sinkhole, a murder, an arrest – I love and live for the adrenaline rush!

I can’t just take my eyes off the phone, I will go crazy! If my phone is not with me, it will affect my mental health, which could be worse.

No 2: I won’t spend so much time on Facebook

Oh, I am seriously working on this one. I have no reason to post pictures of what I eat. It’s akin to self-promotion! Speaking of people who are addicted to FB, I cannot understand why some of my FB friends comment (while I totally appreciate it – come on, of course I love immediate responses!) at 1am or 3am! Don’t they sleep? Or do they also sleep with their phones or tablets next to them?

I have decided that in 2017, I will cut down posting pictures of how I spend time bonding with my three girls – erm, my three furry girls, I mean. I have two breathtakingly beautiful Siberian Huskies – Bella and Missy – and an equally gorgeous and intelligent poodle, Paris.

Strangely, these girls seem to get the most “likes” and comments every time I post something about them. It means only one thing: my FB friends are more interested in the lives of my dogs! Obviously not mine!

Why are pictures of my lazy dogs – sometimes sleeping and often in less-than-polite positions (to use a popular Malaysian term, kaki terkangkang) gaining such popularity?

Duh, no more! No more pictures of my pets. My dogs are becoming the BFFs of my BFFs on FB? Hello!

Ok, in 2017, there will be fewer FB postings, less time spent on FB.

There are good reasons too. I am following some friends because I like to see them and their families doing well. FB is a modern way of bonding with friends but hey, some of them are getting into uploading the products they are selling, their work, office mantra and propaganda, and pictures of their colleagues ….

Please, I need advice. Should I unfriend these friends and incur their wrath in the process? I know I could be sending the wrong signal which could cause an unnecessary loss of friendship. As I said, this is the trend now, with social media and all. Where friends are unfriended. I could lose a decades-old friendship because I unfriended them on FB. I can’t do it lah.

No 3: I will spend less time on Twitter

Over the years, despite almost a year of “slumber” on Twitter, I have build a decent number of followers. But my adult daughter says I am “old school”. Why am I wasting time on Twitter, she asks? Only old people who want to look and sound like they are competent in social media use Twitter, she scoffs. To put it bluntly – Twitter is in financial dire straits and its top guys are quitting the company.

It’s a good time to give up this silly bird-sounding thing. I don’t need to be fed this platform. I get unsolicited replies, sometimes from ungrateful followers, which shortens my life by a few seconds. I don’t need it at this age.

Sometimes, I get rebukes from people who don’t even follow my tweets but they hear about my purported offensive tweet from a friend, who heard from another friend. We don’t check, we are Malaysians, you know. We just forward any message and we believe in fake news.

Then again, the biggest user of Twitter is president-elect Donald Trump. He could well be the first US president to issue a decree, policy and decision via Twitter – even before he discusses anything with his Cabinet!

Maybe he does discuss things with his wife, daughter and son-in-law over dinner first and then he tweets.But of course, we’d rather have Trump and his fingers tweeting on his phone than on a nuclear bomb button. Or than his hands on someone else, other than his wife …

For now, I will keep my Twitter account but perhaps spend less time on it next year. I am not sure. Just like Trump or Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte, I could change my mind. Whatever my decision, I will tweet about it. And change my mind in a subsequent posting.

No 4: Give up on Instagram

Why would I care what Paris Hilton eats for breakfast? And why would I want to know what the less-than-clear-headed Kanye West is mumbling about today? Then again, I confess – I follow them!

But I have a good reason to do so – as a journalist, I need to know why millions of people around the globe are also following them. True, we should be worried about Aleppo, global warming and its effects on polar bears, the mad radicals blowing themselves up and our shrinking ringgit but instead we are keen to read about Kanye’s declaration that he is running to be the next US president over Instagram. Next president of the Mental Health Institute, perhaps?

I have been told that I need to follow our local celebrities, to be one of their millions of followers. Hello, brother, you must follow them because they are huge, people say.

They will be helpful to you and your work, they say. Ok, so now I have added more names to the list of people I follow.

I read about what one fashion icon is doing with his moustache and why he is always in suits. Another is always in pink and selling her products. Yet another is selling expensive tudung. How do these guys get their millions of followers and in Malaysia alone? It’s an educational trip for me! But l love Lisa Surihani the best. Intelligent and witty.

And of course, Harith Iskandar, do keep uploading pictures – err, of your family.

No 5: Enough of video on demand

I love movies but I can’t seem to find time to go to the cinemas. Catching up on movies on the plane has been one way for me but airlines usually have a selection of old movies – too many movies made long ago. In one film, Bruce Willis still had hair when we all know he is now completely bald. Home Alone and all its sequels – please lah. That boy has gone from being a cutie to another Hollywood mental case.

So now, I am into video on demand. OTT is the buzz word. Over The Top – any content stream on to your gadgets via the Internet. TV is out. OUT in capital letters! The number of people watching video on their mobiles is crazy! Surely you have experienced being ignored by a salesgirl glued to her phone watching some Thai or Korean drama at the Platinum Mall or Chatuchak market in Bangkok. Well, it is happening in Malaysia!

I am not a big fan of the plastic surgery-enhanced characters of Korean dramas. They seem to look and sound the same. But you know, millions of Malaysians love them. But I love Thai horror movies. And here’s an advertising pitch: sign up at, the Star Media Group-owned video on demand service. Download the movies on your tablet and watch them on board.

Maybe I will give up on other service providers peddling old Hollywood movies and have my eyes glued to the drama that is broadcast simultaneously the same day.

No 6: Give up on WhatsApp chat groups

Frankly, I am in so many WhatsApp chat groups that I have lost count. I am confused. And there are many confused friends in the same position. A few male friends accidentally posted obscene pictures in an alumni chat group – which naturally included many women – when they meant to post the pictures in another group chat consisting of all-male whiskey- drinking members. Needless to say, the male administrator of the alumni chat group was forced to kick out these people. How can these hum-sap (“amorous” in Cantonese) guys be kept in our group, the women asked.

Then there is my neighbourhood WhatsApp chat group which was set up to discuss issues concerning uncollected rubbish, water cuts, crime updates, selfish neighbours, runaway maids or maids getting pregnant and the like. But the discussions have turned political – red, yellow or orange. It’s not even a discussion, it’s plain propaganda that’s forwarded without thinking and they assume everyone shares their political allegiance.

With the general election said to be held in 2017, I can imagine how these chat groups will sound – in true Malaysian style. Prayer groups will pray for certain politicians, drinking chat groups will have bottoms up emoticons for certain politicians, alumni chat groups will post pictures of themselves with their favourite self-serving politicians – instead of with their families. It’s the silly season of the general election. Brace for it.

No 7: Give up on Waze

Are we becoming dependent on Waze? It’s hard to focus on our device while we drive – no matter where you place it. But I am hooked on it.

I listen to the voice of AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes telling me where to walk when I am overseas. He’s an idol but it’s frightening. He is everywhere I go. Turn left at 100m, turn right. Next, he tells me everyone can walk with him – with extra charges billed! He tells me where to stop at a pub for a drink and where to get the best food. You know, the AirAsia model.

But I have chosen his voice for personal safety reasons – imagine having a female celebrity’s voice. Wives get jealous for the craziest reasons, you know. I guess the voice of a big aviation boss can’t hurt. It’s an amazing device but we are all addicted.

No 8: Stop sending text messages to someone sitting next to me in the office or at home

I don’t know why but I am so guilty of this!! Not in an addictive way. But it’s crazy. Why do we send a text instead of speaking to a colleague or family member sitting with us in the office or at home?

This MUST stop. It must. Errr. I didn’t see your message. You told me meh? I didn’t see your text. Next time, please text lah. Sheesh, we just can’t win.

No 9: No more social media acronym

I will be 56 years old next year. Some of my friends are dead or dying, many are losing their memory or pretending to be cool when we are not.

It’s hard to keep up with the social media fad. We burn data when we are supposed to be semi-retired or have retired. No one is paying our phone bills.

LOL, LMAO and LMFAO are already so yesterday. There’s really no point in learning more acronym and getting ourselves confused.

#WCW isn’t WongChunWai but Woman Crush Wednesday and #TBT isn’t the latest word connected to lesbian, gay or transgender. It simply means throw back Thursday or an old picture posted on Thursday. Enough is enough. There’s only so much an old, used up brain can absorb.

No 10: The last word on social media

It’s not going to happen. I can’t think of another resolution to end this article no matter how hard I try. I know I won’t be able to keep or intend to keep the previous nine resolutions. So, here are my parting words for now. STAY CONNECTED, no matter where we are!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, stay safe and healthy in 2017!

But what is Christmas, actually?

HERE are 10 myths of Christmas, which I think are appropriate for the festive season, and to have a better understanding of the festival.

Myth No 1: Jesus Christ was born on Dec 25.

Dec 25 is not his birth date. I am sorry if you have been listening to Boney M’s Mary’s Boy Child all your life. No one really knows when Jesus was born. There’s no mention of his birth date in the Bible, either. So there’s plenty of guesswork and interpretation. Some say Christmas was made a festival in the grim winter months and before long, it became a Christian festival. The date was chosen by the Roman Catholic Church.

Of course, retailers the world over hijacked the festival -– well, it is the year-end and since bonuses are usually given out to employees during this period, it’s a good time to persuade people to spend.

Restaurants also cleverly jack up the price of meals and include the “traditional” turkey as part of the courses even though having this big bird for Christmas has never been a part of Malaysian culture. Come on, admit it, the meat is just too tough for us Malaysians. It’s just good for Malaysian-style porridge to be served on Boxing Day. Now, that’s something to look forward to!

Myth No 2: The Christmas tree is a religious item.

It is not a compulsory or must-have item in Christian homes. No religious hardliner should get too excited about this. In Malaysia, we are very realistic – our plastic Christmas trees are from China. They are just as gorgeous. The Chinese probably ship them around the world. I am also very sure Father Christmas is now residing in China, busy answering letters requesting gifts.

The Christmas tree is reportedly a mid-18th century idea, and it was the Germans who took the idea to the United States. In the 1900s, then US president Teddy Roosevelt was reportedly peeved at the fad of cutting down trees for Christmas. I mean, what were these Germans thinking?

Myth No 3: “Xmas” is wrong.

Christmas isn’t X rated. It’s a wholesome family festival. Some Christians are upset with the abbreviation “Xmas”. But there’s some basis to this Xmas explanation, with some claiming that in the Greek language, the word “Christ” is written with a letter similar to X. Research on the Net says the first letter “X” or “chi”, is written as “X” in the Roman alphabet. Well, all this is Greek to me.

The only time I come across “chi” is when it is mentioned in tai chi or kung fu in the movies. I know it has to do with some power. Christ is powerful for sure. I don’t want to get into this but I know some sub-editors says “Xmas” is shorter and is easier to fit into headlines in a tabloid newspaper.

Myth No 4: Santa Claus is real.

As far as I can recall, Santa Claus is fat and bearded. I don’t know why. I also don’t understand why Santarina – the female version – must be hot, sexy and slim … Santa Claus is based on a fourth-century bishop known as St Nicholas who was said to have delivered secret gifts to the needy. In Malaysia, the term “Santa Claus” is used even during the non-Christmas season to mean one should not be expected to be too generous. Thus the expression “Eh, you think I am your Santa Claus, ah?” No, the beard of St Nicholas is not made of cotton. It’s probably real since he was of Nordic (or Turkish) origin.

Myth No 5: Rudolph is real.

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer isn’t real. No animal pulled a fat man, dressed in a ridiculous red suit, around, as that would clearly be a violation of animal rights. Rudolph is said to have made his appearance only in 1939 in a booklet written by Robert May. According to the story, Rudolph was a neglected reindeer who caught Santa’s attention because of its glowing nose. I am sorry to tell you this but Mickey Mouse is older than Rudolph (!) as the super mouse was created in 1928 by Walt Disney.

Myth No 6: The red Christmas stockings have special powers.

Christmas stockings, no matter how big or small, are purely decorative. We Malaysians prefer our presents in boxes. Also, often even well decorated boxes are empty and are only good enough as decorations under Christmas trees. Don’t be easily fooled.

The story is this – the tradition of red socks started when Father Nicholas left a piece of gold in the stockings of a poor farmer which had been left hanging to dry near the fire place. The farmer wanted to marry off his three daughters, and it was a tradition and a requirement then to give away valuables to the bridegrooms. On hearing the plight of the farmer, St Nicholas slipped into their home at night and placed the gold in the stockings.

Again, please be reminded that one should not place such red stockings outside the gate … please be aware of the kind of attention and interpretation you would get, especially if you are a female.

Myth No 7: Candy canes are a must.

Candy canes are not compulsory items in Malaysia. We all know that Malaysia has one of the highest numbers of diabetic patients in the world. And take note – there are no sugar-free candy canes yet. These candies are supposed to represent the purity and sinless nature of Jesus Christ, according to a website, with the red stripes symbolising the blood shed by Jesus and the shape of candy canes resembling the shepherd’s staff. It is said that when the stick is turned upside down, it denotes the letter “J” in Jesus Christ. The candy canes have been reportedly in existence since the 17th century and its significance is surely one of the more meaningful ones.

Myth No 8: During the Christmas season, Christians consume turkey meat, visit the homes of relatives and friends and go to church.

Well, yes and no. It is a busy, busy time for footballers and an equally intense time for football fans as we cancel all evening functions to ensure that we watch matches “live” on TV if our favourite team pulls through in the three crazy days of English football. The champion is always decided upon during this mad period. Will it be Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool or Manchester City?

Myth No 9: Boxing Day is for boxing matches.

Christians do not go to boxing matches on Boxing Day, the second day of Christmas, Dec 26. The only boxing we may see, if any at all, will be on the football field when English teams play their games, a day after their one-day Christmas break.

It is called Boxing Day because in the 1830s, presents, which were delivered in boxes, were regarded as a gratuity for good service rendered on the first weekday after Christmas. There is nothing special about Boxing Day in Malaysia. In Europe, shops have Boxing Day sales but in Malaysia, we have sales throughout the year.

Myth No 10: Malaysians have a deep suspicion of each other’s religion and have become increasingly religiously intolerant over the years.

NOT true! We all love each other and respect each other’s religion. We will happily support calls for more long weekends and public holidays to celebrate each community’s religious festivals. Yes, cuti lah! I sokong!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays to all Malaysians! Treasure the time you spend with your family, friends and loved ones. Travel safe and have a good time!

Stand up for what is fair and right

M.Indira Gandhi (left) posing with clerk S.Deepa. – Filepic

THE move by the Perlis state legislative assembly in allowing one parent to convert a child to Islam is totally at odds with what the Federal Government is finally doing.

It has disrupted the legal process of the Federal Government, and like it or not, this tiny state has set off a dangerous precedent.

Malaysians have argued, debated and decided on this contentious issue – and now Perlis has sent this controversy back to square one.

The issue of unilateral conversion became controversial in recent years after several cases like that of M. Indira Gandhi and S. Deepa, two women who faced lengthy court battles to gain custody and reverse the conversion of their children, carried out by their Muslim convert former husbands.

Understandably, Islam is a state matter but state legislation should be consistent with federal laws and the amended enactment by Perlis clearly contravenes the aims and spirit of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Bill 2016 which is intended to secure the constitutional rights of non-Muslims.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said had noted that the Federal Constitution ruled supreme above all state laws, even in cases of unilateral conversion of a child.

“Once the amendment (to the Law Reform Act) is passed, it becomes federal law and it should be noted that Article 75 of the Federal Constitution provides that when any state law is inconsistent with a federal law, the federal law shall prevail over the state law,” she said in a statement.

You don’t have to be a lawyer or legal expert to understand that Section 88A of this Federal Bill specifically states that “conversion to Islam can only be done with the approval of both parents”.

Azalina tabled the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Bill 2016 for first reading at the Dewan Rakyat last month, the highlight being the inclusion of a new section (Section 88A) that explicitly states that “both parties in a civil marriage” must agree to the conversion of a minor to Islam.

Specifically addressing the “Religion of a Child” in civil marriages where one spouse has converted to Islam, the amendment also said that the child will remain in the religion of the parents at the time of marriage until the child is 18 years old, when he may choose his own religion.

“Where a party to a marriage has converted to Islam, the religion of any child of the marriage shall remain as the religion of the parties to the marriage prior to the conversion, except where both parties to the marriage agree to a conversion of the child to Islam, subject always to the wishes of the child where he or she has attained the age of eighteen years,” the section reads.

The proposed amendment also states that if the parties to the marriage professed different religions prior to one spouse converting to Islam, “a child of the marriage shall be at liberty to remain in the religion of either one of the prior religions of the parties before the conversion to Islam.”

I hope the state assemblymen in Perlis, regardless of their faith, have taken time to ponder on what they have decided on. It is easy to just say sokong (support) in unison. But have they considered the consequences?

Is it too difficult to allow children, where one parent has converted to Islam, to hold on to their original faith until they can decide for themselves at age 18?

Reverse the situation – if a Muslim parent residing in a non-Muslim country decides to embrace Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism, and then converts the child to another faith – what will the reaction be? Frankly, I do not think this should be admissible either.

The same rule should be adopted and taken from a compassionate and humanitarian stand. Worse, we should never allow religion to be used in the fight over child custody when a marriage breaks down. It’s simple, common sense. Let’s do what is humane and right.

In a nutshell: unilateral conversion should not be allowed for whatever religion, be it Islam, Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism.

Should a parent convert to a religion which is different from that at the time of marriage, especially during the dissolution of marriage, the children should remain in the original faith until they turn 18.

Forcing the children to embrace any religion when one party decides to convert may show a lack of confidence in oneself in practising one’s faith or worse still, show a lack of faith in the attractiveness, beauty and truth in his or her religion.

It is more rational for parents to show their children the beauty of their faith, new or otherwise, and allow them to decide once they become adults.

There is nothing to stop a Hindu father or mother, who has become a Muslim, from bringing his or her child to study Islam or visit the mosque to share the beauty of Islam.

When the time comes, let the child decide for himself. The question is – what’s the hurry?

This is a country which is predominantly Muslim. Certainly, the presence of Islam is increasingly dominant and the religious authorities should not worry about numbers.

These wise men of Islam, in fact, should be aware that there are selfish men and women out there who use religion for their own motives when a marriage goes sour.

Why are we denying justice to the non-converting spouse?

The same principle applies to those of other faiths too, and we acknowledge that all religions believe in justice and compassion.

We should also remind ourselves that the Federal Constitution is a major piece of legislation aimed at balancing the needs of all races and religions that make up this multi-racial country.

If a single parent is to be allowed to convert a child it would only have the effect of ignoring constitutional provisions.

Take a breather, listen to our hearts of heart, do what is fair, just and right – not what is politically right or politically beneficial.

Speak for the Rohingyas

Members of the Hokars Sromik Andolan party attend a protest against the recent attacks on the Rohingyas in Arakan in Myanmar, in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

THE trouble with Malaysians is this – many of us often see issues from a religious and racial prism.

So if Rohingyas are getting slaughtered, raped and forced to flee from their homes, it is a Muslim problem.

The only ones who should be getting hysterical are their fellow Muslims and if radical Buddhist monks are said to be involved in the mayhem, then it is plain social media propaganda – these are the exact words that some Buddhists have used to tell me off.

Many of us cannot handle facts well especially if they involve issues relating to our race, religion and community.

Some vocal non-Muslim groups and personalities, who are often quick at issuing press statements over the flimsiest of issues, seem to be indifferent towards the Rohingya issue. And it doesn’t help that certain Muslim groups are busy holding protests because the Rohingyas are Muslims.

The reality is that this is essentially a human rights-humanitarian concern. We are talking about people being persecuted – not just Muslims being oppressed.

And those who have been hero worshipping Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, are now just as silent as the de facto leader and Myanmar foreign minister.

We have finally come to realise that she is just as another selfish politician, who is more concerned about being popular with the majority than the principled statesman we expected her to be.

She is not standing up for the oppressed Muslim minority and has refused to even address the genocide taking place in the northern Rakhine state in Myanmar.

She no longer deserves her international hero status. To put it bluntly, she’s quite a disgrace. This is because her silence only means she is condoning the genocide in Myanmar. The Nobel Peace Prize award should be taken away from her.

The Queen Mary University, in a statement recently, rightly said “her claim that ‘we have not tried to hide anything on Rakhine’ is utterly disingenuous. Her statements can only be interpreted as denial – a familiar and integral strategy deployed by criminal states to deflect blame.”

Hundreds of homes have been destroyed in multiple villages amid an ongoing crackdown by the Myanmar military following violence last month, according to the Human Rights Watch.

The authorities have reportedly claimed that the fires were set by local militant groups and have disputed HRW’s account.

The Rakhine state is home to 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims, a stateless ethnic minority that has faced discrimination and persecution for years.

The Myanmar government’s official position has always been to not recognise them as “Rohingya” but illegal Bengali migrants.

International observers have reportedly documented the systematic disenfranchisement and discrimination Rohingyas faced including government restrictions on marriage, family planning, employment, education and freedom of movement.

There are serious implications here. While Asean has often adopted a non-interference stance on domestic issues concerning member countries, this time, Myanmar has crossed the line of decency.

No member country of Asean should be allowed to violate basic human rights while we, as a fellow Asean member country, look the other way and say that it is not of our concern.

Are we supposed to turn a blind eye when mass murders, looting and rapes are taking place on a grand scale this very minute?

We are living in the 21st century and not some barbaric age, where slaughters are an accepted form of behaviour.

Thanks to modern technology involving satellites, the world is now able to track accurately what is taking place in Rakhine.

Clear images of villages being destroyed are now easily available as evidence to show the unimaginable destruction that is being systematically and mercilessly carried out.

We should seriously call for an emergency meeting of Asean to discuss this matter beyond the protests. That is simply because Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos may soon have to face a fresh round of refugees.

Refugees are unpopular, let’s face it, in any country but we do not turn refugees away or send them back to the seas.

Myanmar may have carried out some degree of democracy but it must learn that human rights is very much a part of democracy. To respect human values is an integral part of a democratic country.

Myanmar has outraged the world and not just Asean – and we urgently need to engage with the superpowers that deal with the military junta, making it clear that they must stop what they are doing.

International pressure must continue and this has to come from countries like Thailand and China which Myanmar depends on.

Malaysia, together with other Asean members, must also state categorically that Myanmar leaders are not welcome here for the time being.

Suu Kyi, for example, had to call off a trip to Indonesia after protests there over her country’s renewed crackdown on its Rohingya minority.

Let’s stand up for the Rohingyas – not because they are Muslims but because they are people with families running away from state sponsored murderers, presumably acting in the name of race and religion.

It is sheer madness that such brutality in violation of human rights is happening now. It must not be allowed to continue.

Who are the real Malaysian heroes?

Everyday heroes: (background, fourth from left onwards) Ecoworld chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, Star Media Group chairman Datuk Fu Ah Kiow, Liow, Star Media Group chief executive officer Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai and Gamuda Engineering managing director Datuk Ubull Din Om striking a pose for photographers with recipients of the Star Golden Hearts Award 2016 at a ceremony in Menara Star.

TWO recent events have reassured me of how good ordinary Malaysians are, especially those who believe in the spirit of moderation and unity, even as we see ugly displays of racist behaviour around us sometimes.

When we put politics out of way, most Malaysians are able to build on the bond that glues us together as a nation.

Last week, one of my dearest friends and colleague Soo Ewe Jin passed away. At his wake services over two nights, his Muslim friends readily stepped forward and spoke passionately about him from the lectern of the Trinity Methodist Church in Petaling Jaya.

There were absolutely no reservations or awkwardness on their part. They walked right into the sanctuary of the church, listened when hymns were sung and stood respectfully with others when prayers were offered.

They listened attentively to the sermons delivered by the pastor and some even turned up on both nights.

Those in attendance were a multi-racial group, they filled the church to the brim and those who paid tribute to Ewe Jin shared immensely touching and emotional stories of how their lives had been impacted by him.

It was a truly Malaysian setting. It took place in a church but it proved a point – that visiting a place of worship is an ordinary move when we choose to leave out the politics of fear and hatred created by some quarters.

I’m sure our Ewe Jin, a passionate advocate of moderation, was watching from heaven, feeling enormously proud.

The word “moderation” kept cropping up in the two nights the wake services were held, used in tandem with the endless tributes to the “Sunday Starters” columnist who won legions of fans for being so ordinary (although he was ironically anything but ordinary) and for simply reminding us every Sunday of the need to be grateful for what we have.

And when the wake ended, people of all faiths stayed back, some to get to know each other, others to renew friendships.

After all, many of us only meet during weddings and funerals.

On Thursday, moderate Malaysia was celebrated again, even as we read of more displays of thuggish acts and intimidation in Parliament.

The Star brought together winners of this year’s Golden Heart Awards – where we pay tribute to the unsung heroes and heroines of Malaysia.

We started giving out these awards last year to give recognition to Malaysians from all walks of life – individuals or groups – who acted heroically and/or selflessly, building bridges between different communities and in doing so, promoting racial harmony and unity.

This year, winners included Sabahan Marie Christie Robert, a Kadazan who donated her liver to her former teacher, Cikgu Cheong.

There was Rishiwant Singh Randhawa who sent food to orang asli affected by the floods in remote areas. He also did not think twice about flying off to help Syrian refugees.

Then, there was Dr Rusaslina Idrus, who provided clothes and toiletries to the homeless and urban poor in the capital through Kedai Jalanan. She helped all regardless of race or religion. But more importantly, she helped people in a dignified way.

Another was Kong Lan Lee, who is actively involved in helping special needs children through Persatuan Kanak-Kanak Istimewa Kajang.

Boilerman Mohd Yusuf Rohani, who cared for his childhood Indian friend for 15 years, sending him to hospital and just helping him out – even when he himself was not financially well off.

Fishermen Saari Mohd Nor and Low Kock Seong who rescued eight Royal Malaysian Air Force men from a plane crash were two other recipients of the award.

Others were Shalini Yeap May Hwa and Afred Samuel Mariyas, Jerryson Abraham Gnanaraj Doss and Edna Sung Burongoh, Khairuddin Abd Aziz and Tan Chin Leong.

Like Ewe Jin, these people went out of their way to help others and made sacrifices in their personal life to carry out these charitable deeds. They impacted the lives of many others, in their own way.

Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, who was chief judge, aptly said: “The award continues to celebrate Malaysia’s everyday heroes from all walks of life, who act in a selfless manner to build bridges between different communities and promote racial harmony and unity.”

But what touched our hearts most was the large number of nominations we received – it only showed how many Malaysians committed themselves to helping fellow Malaysians without fanfare.

A few declined to be named, saying they wished to remain anonymous so that they could continue doing their work more effectively – without the interference of certain authorities.

Others nominated included a soup kitchen volunteer who served more than 2,000 refugees in Greece; a photographer who left his job to travel the world and raise funds for solar-powered lights; an accountant who helps Bhutanese weavers earn a better living through sales of handmade scarves and even a fisherman who is involved in numerous cases of recovering the dead from the sea.

In a week, we read of certain politicians inciting hate and blaming the media for their own incompetence, hoping to distract attention.

So, it was uplifting to know that there are many who only see the goodness of their fellow Malaysians, and not judge anyone for the colour of their skin, the way they pray and celebrate their culture – or even how they dressed.

These unsung heroes and heroines easily put to shame some of our brash, intimidating and arrogant politicians, from both sides of the divide, with their unproductive behaviour.

There is still hope for Malaysia.

Farewell, my dear friend Ewe Jin

Shining example: Ewe Jin taught his readers to always be grateful and enjoy the simple things in life.

He was one of the kindest, most generous and positive people I have had the privilege of knowing.

HIS Sunday Starters column was on the “Best Read” list every weekend. He rarely wrote about politics, personalities, celebrities or heavy analyses. He focused simply on ordinary people.

That struck a chord among many readers of this newspaper and that was what Soo Ewe Jin wanted – a column for ordinary people, about ordinary people.

In his own words: “Amidst the busyness of life, we need to pause and look at things with our heart and not just our eyes.”

At 5.20pm on Thursday, our Ewe Jin passed away at KPJ Damansara Specialist Hospital with family members and close friends by his side.

He had battled cancer for 17 years and the journey since its relapse two years ago had been a difficult one.

Like anyone else afflicted by the disease, chemotherapy affected him greatly. He had difficulty opening one of his eyes and had to use a hearing aid. In fact, he was even going blind towards the end, but his mind was as sharp as ever.

Ewe Jin was first diagnosed with nose cancer in 1999 and seven years later, he had a lump in his lymph nodes. Another relapse came in March 2011.

The entire time he was seeking treatment, he still continued working. He was a leader and writer, contributing to The Star Says, always offering sound suggestions and well-researched points of discussion. He knew he was representing the voice of The Star, after all.

Besides writing his weekly Sunday Starters, Ewe Jin edited my column On The Beat – removing the blemishes, sharpening it and often, correcting my grammatical errors. He would also rein me in if I went too far, reminding me to be rational instead.

Ewe Jin was very proud of the multi-racial make-up of his neighbourhood in Kelana Jaya, which he often wrote about. The Malay, Indian and Chinese neighbours he spoke of were real people, not fictional characters.

Like me, he deeply believed in moderation and edited the essays on the subject in time for this year’s National Day, labouring away with just one good eye.

He had been with The Star since 2000, serving in various positions – as editor for The Star Online, Sunday Star, Special Projects and as Executive Editor, his last post.

Ewe Jin was with the National Echo, the Malay Mail and The Edge. He also shared his expertise at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies and the World Wide Fund for Nature Malaysia.

Last week, our columnist Lyana Khairuddin visited him and shared some photographs taken at her Wear Kebaya Night event.

He cheekily told her that “Chun Wai isn’t a real Baba, even if he is from Penang, but I am a real Baba”.

Ewe Jin was proud of his Peranakan heritage and we both shared the same parochial sentiments – Penangites are special.

He studied at the Penang Free School while I was from the rival St Xavier’s Institution and the two of us regularly bickered, even over something as flippant as the Latin mottos of our schools.

We both came from humble backgrounds. He grew up in the triad-infested Jelutong area while my turf was Kampung Melayu in Air Itam, which was far from being an affluent neighbourhood.

And recently, Ewe Jin took two trips to the Ulu Yam waterfalls because it reminded him of the waterfalls at Penang’s Botanical Garden – he was a Penangite till the very end.

Our passion for journalism, for people and Malaysia, had always brought us together. He told his sisters that I was the brother he never had – he had eight sisters and was the only boy in the family.

In turn, he was the Christian brother I never had – he taught this rebellious and former atheist what the Bible was all about and watched over me regularly, preventing me from straying too far. Fate has its methods, and it is no surprise that we ended up being members of the same church.

He was the unofficial pastor at The Star – he brought colleagues together for fellowship and prayed for everyone and for the company.

If there was one recurring theme which kept popping up in his stories, it was the call for us to be grateful for what we have. Grateful – this must be the most frequently used word in his column.

He taught us to enjoy the simple things in life such as waking up daily (this was a luxury to him, given his battle with one of the most deadly illnesses) and other little things which we often take for granted.

He never asked for anything, as a friend or a colleague.

As he spent less time at the office the past two years, which affected his work assessment and his annual increment, he still texted me and extended his appreciation for what he received. For me, it was a lesson in humility and gratitude.

He was a shining example to our colleagues and many others who never met him but were ardent fans who knew much about him through his writing.

Even as I write this article, my mobile phone is ringing non-stop with messages of condolences pouring in from everywhere, including a journalist on duty in Peru.

Ewe Jin never said no when it came to helping others, even when he himself had to watch his finances. His wife Angeline Lim quit her well-paying job to take care of him, leaving him as the sole breadwinner. Yet, he still found it in his heart to hand the royalties earned from his book (a compilation of Sunday Starters articles) to the needy.

Ewe Jin was a fighter. Most of us would not be able to endure the many torturous chemotherapy treatments he went through.

On Thursday, even as the doctor told us at noon that our friend had only “four to six hours to go”, we saw how Ewe Jin fought as the clock ticked. He fought for every breath, seemingly refusing to let go.

He had battled the disease at every stage but still found the time and resources to help others fight their own demons.

Ewe Jin often offered kind words and support to other cancer survivors, visiting them at their hospital beds, regardless of their colour or creed. He wrote a book, Face To Face, which he and Angeline distributed for free to share his cancer journey and encourage fellow cancer patients.

He instilled this lesson in me: “When you visit hospitals, you will discover that everyone is the same. The colour of your skin no longer matters, we are one and the same.”

He was always at ease with everyone, with friends from all walks of life. Whether they were jobless, retirees, judges or professors, he treated everyone equally. He was one of the kindest, most generous and positive people I have had the privilege of knowing.

Farewell, Ewe Jin. We will miss you so much, but we take comfort that you are no longer in pain and are now in a much, much better place.

We know you are watching us now, still caring for us and everyone else like you’ve always done. Rest easy, my dear friend.

Stop biting the helping hand

YOU can be angry with Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak but let’s not lose our objectivity. The Prime Minister brought in RM144bil worth of deals signed between Malaysia and China.

Many Asean countries are eyeing that kind of money from China but strangely, some Malaysians’ sense of rationality is becoming warped, even perverted, and they feel it is prudent to go into senseless name-calling and mindless smearing of China.

We have to be careful here – remarks like Malaysia indulging in yellow culture, selling our soul to China and comments which smacks of racism are surely not the way to treat a friendly superpower nation like China.

Those making such disparaging remarks are doing a disservice to Malaysia. It’s akin to throwing sand into our rice bowl.

Hate the PM as much as you want as this is how democracy works. But do some of us need to lash out with political rhetoric against China?

It is one thing to score points against our political rivals but surely, there must be a line drawn – let’s not bite the hand that is trying to help us at a time when Malaysia needs to secure more foreign investment to shore up our flagging revenue from oil and gas.

Many of the negative responses over these deals with China seem to be politically motivated, stemming from ignorance and, in some cases, ethnic prejudice against all things Chinese, whether it has to do with mainland China or Chinese Malaysians.

Let’s look at the numbers – foreign investors (including the US) are net sellers of stocks in Bursa Malaysia and have reportedly dumped RM948.1mil in stocks although some have said it is even more.

Malaysia can no longer depend on traditional foreign direct investments from the US and other Western countries.

The reality is that China invested as much as US$84bil (RM370bil) in 2012, establishing it as the world’s third largest outward investor after the US and Japan. China has aggressively eclipsed other nations.

The shift towards China, according to one study, is obvious as the republic emerged as Malaysia’s largest trading partner, enjoying a 13.8% share of Malaysian trade since 2012.

Malaysian firms (especially those owned and managed by Malaysians of Chinese descent) have also been actively investing in China since it liberalised its economy in 1979. Some of these firms played a crucial role in attracting mainland Chinese firms to invest in Malaysia, according to studies.

Everyone knows that China has the money. And Malaysia has an edge over other Asean countries because of the link between Chinese Malaysians and China that has given us an advantageous position, especially when China increasingly sees Singapore as a US ally.

There are some who are unhappy with China’s purchase of 1MDB’s energy assets in Edra Global Energy Bhd for RM9.83bil by the state-owned China General Nuclear Power Corp recently, suggesting that the republic was only helping Najib out in the 1MDB controversy.

But let’s look at other investments – even before the recent trip by the PM. China has put in a multi-billion ringgit purchase of a substantial equity stake in Bandar Malaysia via China Railway Construction Corporation.

China Railway Engineering Corporation has announced plans to set up its multi-billion regional headquarters in Bandar Malaysia, which will host the main terminal for the proposed KL-Singapore High Speed Rail project.

It has been reported that the Chinese government has started buying more Malaysian Government Securities (MGS) and this inflow of new money could possibly rise to RMB50bil (about RM30bil) in total or 8.5% of Malaysia’s total outstanding MGS as of early April.

Those who have been grumbling should answer if there’s any big money coming from the US, Australia or Britain.

And many of us are also wary about money coming in from the Saudis – some are alleging that they are exporting radical Islamic values to Malaysia. Do we need this?

Like it or not, China, apart from being Malaysia’s largest trading partner which takes up 19% of its exports, is presently one of the top five foreign investors in the country.

Investments from China in the manufacturing, construction, infrastructure and property sectors are at significant levels now.

According to official data, China’s investments in the manufacturing sector here from 2009 to 2015 totalled RM13.6bil, creating 24,786 jobs.

Malaysia also needs more Chinese tourists to visit our country and we hope to attract two million Chinese tourists by the end of the year. Our tourism industry has seen a growth of 23% in arrivals from China since the e-visa entry programme was introduced in March this year.

China is the third largest source of tourists for us after Singapore and Indonesia. Malaysia targets eight million Chinese tourists by 2020.

Only 10% of China’s population travelled out of their country and yet they have spent US$229bil (RM1tril) globally last year. They easily beat the number of many Western countries put together!

They spend more than other tourists and they travel in bigger numbers. We all know that in Western countries, Chinese-speaking shop assistants are specifically hired to engage with this segment of customers.

Malaysia is not on the radar of Chinese tourists but more young Chinese tourists have chosen to visit Sabah because of its beautiful sea and lush forests.

Chinese tourists spent US$215bil (RM948bil) abroad last year, 53% more than in 2014, according to a World Travel & Tourism Council report, a figure which is more than the annual economic output of Qatar. Chinese tourists are now spending way more than anyone else, including the Americans.

The number of Chinese tourists travelling globally has more than doubled to 120 million over the last five years, according to data from the China National Tourist Office and WTTC. That means one in every 10 international traveller now is from China.

Malaysia is missing out on this action, unfortunately. For a start, we can make travelling into Malaysia easier for them and having more direct flights will help.

Let’s give credit where credit is due. Najib has done well, from his recent trip to China.

It will even be better if our own Air Asia gets to fly into more Chinese cities as this will surely help boost Chinese tourist arrivals.

Let’s get real, all of us.

Certainly we have the right to express our concerns over the terms of some projects, and to seek clearer details, but let’s not drag in unnecessary elements which strain bilateral ties.

Keep China’s faith in us

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak (L) and China's Premier Li Keqiang at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing. – EPA

IT’S no longer a topic that is discussed in hushed tones at functions attended by diplomats and businessmen – that relations between China and Singapore are strained. It is out in the open.

The irony is that Singapore is the Asean coordinator for ties with China – and the latter has literally told the island republic to buck up.

The latest salvo against Singapore reportedly came from Chinese vice-minister for foreign affairs, Liu Zhenmin, who warned that as a non-claimant state in the South China Sea dispute, the island should stay away from commenting on the issue.

China’s top diplomat urged the republic to focus on coordinating dialogue between China and Asean – in short, he is effectively saying that Singapore is not doing a good job in that department.

China’s impatience with Singapore has been simmering for a while although it has never been out in the open. But in June, Global Times ran a commentary by Chinese Academy of Social Sciences researcher Cheng Bifan under the headline “Singapore has picked the wrong target in its balance of power strategy”.

The newspaper, regarded as a mouthpiece of the Chinese communist party, is also a subsidiary of the powerful People’s Daily.

Basically, China is irritated with Singapore for seemingly siding with the United States over the South China Sea issue.

Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post (SCMP) has reported that Internet users in China have delivered stinging criticisms, labelling Singapore a sycophant of the US, threatening that China would teach the tiny South-East Asian nation a lesson.

Particularly painful is the phrase they often use to mock Singapore: Li Jiapo, a play on the island’s name in Chinese, substituting the first two Chinese characters “Li Jia” or the “Lee family”, it reported.

The problem started after a tribunal in The Hague rejected China’s claims in the South China Sea dispute with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong saying that the verdict delivered a strong statement about international law in maritime disputes.

During a recent trip to the United States, Lee also reportedly told US President Barack Obama that Singapore hoped Washington would “remain actively engaged in the region.”

It doesn’t help that Singapore has allowed the US to deploy its P8 Poseidon spy plane to the city state. The US also operates from Japan and the Philippines, its two other allies.

But since Rodrigo Duterte, whose ancestors came from Xiamen, China, became president, the Philippines has shifted its sights –and is looking at China.

As the unhappiness builds up, the Global Times accused Singapore’s representative at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Venezuela of trying – but failing – to add an endorsement of the Philippines’ international arbitration case against China’s territorial claims.

It added that the representative had become exasperated and made “sarcastic remarks” when the move was opposed.

The Singaporean envoy, however, hit back at the Global Times, for publishing an “irresponsible report replete with fabrications.”

His protestation, however, was met with defiance from the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, who stood by the article, accusing Singapore of “damaging China’s interests,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

According to envoy Stanley Loh, Singapore did not raise the South China Sea issue or the tribunal ruling at the summit. He said the proposal to revise the summit communique was made collectively by Asean, which wanted the document to reflect regional concerns over recent South China Sea tensions.

But Chinese diplomats and journalists, close to the communist party, have openly accused Singapore of “siding with the US to willingly play the troublemaker” over the thorny issue.

According to National University of Singapore’s Prof Wang Gungwu, it would not be in Singapore’s interest for China to doubt its friendship as the city-state has a big stake in China’s economic development.

Suspicion against Singapore is so great that, rightly or wrongly, some Chinese businessmen have blamed the island republic for holding back the building of the High Speed Rail between Malaysia and Singapore, suggesting that the island republic is “blocking and delaying” Malaysia’s readiness to award the project to China.

SCMP (owned by Chinese tycoon Jack Ma) which monitors events in China closely, quoted Wang Yiwei from the School of International Studies at China’s Renmin University as saying that he believed China’s “disappointment” with Singapore stemmed from Beijing’s initial hopes that the island state could play a role not just to bridge China and Asean, but with the US, the West and the global community.

Singapore had not adequately protected the overall and long-term interests of China and Asean, despite being the coordinator, he said.

“Instead, Singapore suggested that China accept the tribunal’s ruling. This was a huge turn-off for China,” Wang said.

In contrast, Malaysia-China relations have entered a new high. The “biggest deal” is not even the huge amount of businesses coming into the country but our commitment to buy four Chinese naval vessels, which are known as littoral mission ships (small craft that operate close to shore). Two are to be built in China and the other two in Malaysia.

Liu said the two countries were focusing on naval cooperation and that the deal marked a big leap in bilateral ties.

The defence deal also signalled that Malaysia wanted to have closer military-to-military relations with China.

The two nations also signed the framework for the RM55bil East Coast Rail Line, which will be China’s largest investment in Malaysia to date.

Najib, who was on a six-day visit to China, met President Xi Jinping on Thursday.

Malaysia Airlines Bhd also secured many direct flights from China, recently announcing that it would start flying to eight new destinations and 11 new routes in the republic from Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu and Penang, from early 2017. MAS is also hoping to add a second daily flight between KL and Shanghai in April 2017.

Although Malaysia is the Asean coordinator with the US, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has played a remarkable role, balancing our link with the two superpowers.

And although Malaysia is a claimant to the territorial claims, Malaysia has restrained itself well, issuing cautious statements, without adding fuel to the rivalry between the two giants.

Najib’s diplomatic skills benefit Malaysia greatly. The domestic political fight should not be used to disrupt the strong ties between Malaysia and China.

Sarcastic innuendoes that “Malaysia is Red” does not augur well for Malaysia, which risks earning the wrath of China, at a time when the market is terribly weak.

Claims that the proposed ECRL project was overpriced, that the soft loan will come to RM92mil per kilometre, is nothing short of amusing.

China’s offer is said to be lower compared to what was offered by Japan and other European countries – and it comes with a soft loan.

The payment is over a tenure of 20 years and in the first seven years, Malaysia will not have to pay anything – neither interest nor repayment. Surely, that is attractive.

Najib has lobbied for China to increase its import of palm oil as it has dropped 50% in the first six months of the year.

Apparently, this was due to some negative reports and wrong perception of the nutritional value of palm oil, a common tactic used by Western countries to promote soy bean and other vegetable oils.

China used to be the largest importer of palm oil from Malaysia but it has fallen to third place, after India and Europe.

It is important that domestic politics should not come at the expense of losing the support of the Chinese. We are talking about the rice bowl of Malaysians and we don’t want selfish politicians to throw sand into our rice bowl.

It is one thing to score political points against Najib, by ridiculing his approaches to China for business deals, but it should not affect our economy.

For example, the number of Chinese visitors to Taiwan has reportedly fallen 22% since the island’s Beijing-sceptic government took office in May, with tourism operators saying that the industry is in a slump.

Hotels are only half full and thousands of tour buses are sitting idle, with observers saying the decline is due to China limiting tour groups to Taiwan amid rapidly cooling cross-strait ties, according to a report.

There was a boom in mainland tourists to Taiwan in recent years under former President Ma Ying-jeou’s Beijing-friendly government, with Chinese visitors accounting for about 40% of the total 10 million tourists last year, according to government figures.

However, in the months since President Tsai Ing-wen took office up to Aug 23, mainland visitor numbers have reportedly fallen 22.3% compared with the same period last year.

In Hong Kong, news reports of resentment against Chinese mainlanders and calls by some HK politicians for independence have resulted in a backlash with Chinese tourists staying away from HK.

The SCMP reported the decline in the month of the mini-golden week holiday – when Chinese tourists go on vacation – and this came as a blow to hopes that the city’s battered retail sector – which heavily relies on tourism spending – could improve soon.

Government statistics showed May retail sales decreasing 8.4% on a yearly basis after the April decline narrowed to 7.5%, from a 9.8% dip in March, marking the 15th consecutive month of contraction.

Hong Kong Retail Management Association chairman Thomson Cheng Wai-hung has predicted a double-digit decline in the first half of this year, which would be the worst in over a decade, as its members signalled that sales in June were “even worse than May”.

The reality is that China has become a economic superpower and we have had a headstart by becoming the first Asean country to forge diplomatic ties with China.

Through the efforts of the Chinese community here, the special ties have been further cemented, and that has allowed us to have a special place in the heart of China.

Malay extremists should learn to appreciate this special link, which has benefited Malaysia greatly, before they make careless and hurtful racist remarks that serve little purpose.

The billions pouring into Malaysia is staggering and surely, we are the envy of many other Asean countries. That is because China trusts us and we should keep and build on that faith in us.