Malaysia stopped distributing a political activist’s comic book to schools nationwide after critics slammed its pro-China propaganda content lauding Beijing’s One Belt, One Road initiative.
The comic book explained the “Chinese Dream” of being a socialist state, an ancient Oriental civilization, a major developing country and a rising emerging nation. One Belt, One Road (OBOR) is the manifestation of the dream, according to book author Hew Kuan Yua.
On Monday, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said it is not Malaysia’s role to promote Beijing’s ideologies.
“I believe China will be a great influence in the future,” he said, “but for the moment it is not for us to promote China’s ideas and Chinese ideologies, but to find out how we can benefit from them.”
“As much as we did not like the Western influence in our set of beliefs and schools, we do not want any other country to have undue influence on our young people,” Mahathir said during question-and-answer session at an Institute of Strategic and International Studies conference in Kuala Lumpur.
OBOR is Beijing’s massive infrastructure initiative that stretches to 70 countries. It aims to become a 21st-century Silk Road by connecting the countries through networks of railways, bridges and ports, linking China with Africa, Europe and Southeast Asia.
Hew, the chief executive of the Malaysia-China Business Council who is nicknamed “Superman Hew,” made a series of Facebook postings over the weekend to say the comic improved bilateral relations with Beijing.
He posted a photo showing Mahathir and Chinese President Xi Jinping flipping through the comic book during an April meeting in China.
“This is a photo that will be interpreted in different ways,” Hew said in one of his postings. Hew is a former member of ruling coalition member Democratic Action Party (DAP).
“UMNO and PH will eventually reach a dead-end while my work has already helped in improving relations between Malaysia and China,” he said referring to the opposition United Malays National Organization and Mahathir’s ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition.
In response, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement late Friday explaining the photo and denying that it was a gift from Mahathir to Xi, saying it had not been vetted properly before it ended up in their hands.
“The prime minister was never involved in the book’s publication nor was aware of its content,” the statement said. “He also never gave consent for his likeness to be used for whatever purpose nor gave permission for the books to be distributed at schools.”
The education ministry issued its own statement that it never approved distribution of the 164-page comic book.
The Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement issued a statement condemning the comic’s depiction of Muslims as terrorists through a page depicting an image of Osama bin Laden and a fighter brandishing a rocket-propelled grenade launcher with a flag bearing the letters “IS.”
“This can be seen through the contents of the comic which, among others, spread the propaganda that those who support the Uyghurs against the Chinese government’s oppression are radicals," youth movement secretary-general Muhammad Faisal Abdul Aziz told BenarNews.
In his own Facebook posting, former Prime Minister Najib Razak questioned why DAP’s propaganda was being freely distributed at schools.
“What message are they trying to send?” Najib said.
Meanwhile, Inspector General of Police Abdul Hamid Bador said police took a statement from the comic book artist and expect to question two individuals related to its publication. He said their testimony would be necessary.
“At the moment, we are not able to determine what offense has been committed. However, once we have statements from the other two individuals, police will forward investigation papers to the attorney general’s office for further action,” he said.
“Abominable” pulled from cinemas
On Monday, meanwhile, officials said the animated motion picture “Abominable” by Dreamworks Studio will not be screened in Malaysian cinemas following backlash over a depiction of a map of Southeast Asia with China’s infamous “nine-dash line” superimposed over the contested waters of the South China Sea.
Film Censorship Board chairman Zamberi Aziz told BenarNews the board had allowed the movie company to remove the offending scene.
The film’s distributor, United International Pictures, in a statement to Reuters news agency, said it was not willing to abide by the Malaysian censor board’s requirement and chose not to screen the film in the country.
The movie has been pulled from cinemas in Vietnam and the Philippines as well. All three countries have territorial claims to the South China Sea while China claims nearly all of it as its own.
Noah Lee in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.