Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was quoted by media reports as saying recently that Malaysians might not be able to compete with the Chinese if the latter were allowed into the country en masse. As prime minister, if Mahathir brings too much national sentiment into his comments on China and Chinese people, there will be plenty of things to worry about.
Many people hope Mahathir, who steered Malaysia's economic rise in the closing decades of the 20th century, can revamp the nation's economy and fix its finances. It is a very tough goal, but it can be done if Mahathir carries out deep reforms to clear barriers that are holding the economy from moving further ahead.
One of the obstacles to Malaysia's economic rise is unequal treatment between migrants and local residents, which has been a complaint of Malaysian-born Chinese and Chinese investors. What lies behind this is the race-based politics. If Mahathir seeks the fundamental problems facing the economy, he had better look inside the country before citing external factors.
Mahathir has reportedly said he would revisit his "Look East" policy to seek not only foreign direct investment but also to learn how Asian neighbors grew their countries. China is expected to take up a key position in Malaysia's Look East policy. Export-oriented growth is the characteristic of the development of Asian economies, especially China. If Mahathir wants to oversee Malaysia's economic recovery under his Look East policy, the first thing the country needs to learn is keeping an open mind toward foreigners and foreign investment. China has made itself into a key production and processing base for Western firms, but the Western presence in China hasn't turn the emerging economy into a colony. Why is Malaysia so afraid of the Chinese presence in its economy?
National sentiment cannot help Malaysia revamp its economy. If Malaysia remains vigilant against Chinese nationals, the Southeast Asian country cannot copy the experience of its Asian neighbors' economic success and further integrate itself into the Asian industrial chain.
Since Mahathir was sworn in as prime minister, global investors have been taking a close look at whether his victory represents a turning point for the country's race-based politics. His comments that Malaysia has to "protect ourselves" until Malaysians can compete with Chinese is ill-founded, and at the least, the timing is particularly inopportune.
The author is a reporter with the Global Times. email@example.com