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Malaysia's reactions to Lee Kuan Yew’s "apology"

Updated On: Oct 06, 2006

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has reacted tersely to Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s "apology" over remarks he made about Malaysian Chinese, but has closed the chapter.

Lee had said in a letter to Abdullah that he was sorry for the "great deal of discomfort" caused by his claim that the Chinese in Malaysia were being systematically marginalised. In his letter, which was released to media on Monday night, Lee apologised for the "discomfort" caused by his remarks but did not withdraw them, Reuters reported.  Lee argued in his letter that he was only repeating comments he had made many times before.

Abdullah’s frosty response to Lee Kuan Yew's apology: “I have taken note of it. But the statement he made was uncalled for in the first place and not at all appreciated. ...I certainly reject the premise upon which he made the statement in Singapore. I believe such a statement cannot contribute to good neighbourly relations.  Irrespective of whatever reasons he has given, such a statement can incite the feelings of the races.  We have to ensure such a statement is not repeated…” Abdullah declined to say whether he accepted the “apology” but instead repeated his objections to Lee`s original comments.

However, Malaysia’s Cabinet on Monday (4 October) decided not to pursue the spat with Singapore.  At its weekly meeting yesterday, the Cabinet felt that Lee's reply to Abdullah was just an explanation and not intended to be an apology.  But it made two important points: One, that Lee’s letter to Abdullah did not qualify as an apology. In fact, the ministers felt that the former Singapore prime minister had repackaged his jaundiced views about Chinese here being marginalised and compliant.  Two, since Lee said that he wanted good bilateral ties with Malaysia, the onus was on him to translate that into action. Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said Malaysia under Abdullah had done all it could to create an environment that was conducive to Malaysia-Singapore bilateral relations.

The New Straits Times noted that the terse and economical reaction from Abdullah was meant to show that though the government was not interested in prolonging the issue, it was still unhappy with Lee’s statement.  It also reported the general feeling among politicians being that a large portion of Lee’s reply letter is self-serving. Syed Hamid noted yesterday that Lee had said "sorry" for causing "discomfort" to Abdullah, but did not regret the remarks he made about Malaysian Chinese being marginalised.

Information chief, Muhammad Taib was also displeased that Lee had dragged former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir into the picture in the letter of “apology” and that Lee was deliberately “fishing in troubled waters”. Lee had pointed out in his letter that Malaysian politicians including Mahathir and many others had also publicly warned Malaysian Malays that if they ever lost power, they risked the same fate as Malays in Singapore, whom they alleged were marginalised and discriminated against.  He added that from time to time when Malaysian politicians attacked Singapore fiercely over some bilateral issue but some of them told the republic's politicians privately to just accept that as a part of Malaysian politics and not to react to those attacks.  “Singapore understands the reality of Malaysian politics. We have never protested at these attacks on our multi-racial system or our policies, except to clarify our own position when necessary ...”

Other ministers contacted yesterday also said they were unhappy with Lee’s letter.  Views were mixed, but most agreed that while it was a backhanded apology, the matter should be laid to rest. 

In Singapore, the media in the republic, besides reporting what Lee had said in the letter, also published the letter in full, including the annex which listed numerous media reports containing comments from Malaysian leaders about the marginalisation of Singapore Malays.  The annex mentioned over a dozen such reports from the Malaysian media dated from August 1998 till as recent as Sept 3 this year. Barring Sin Chew Daily, none of the English or Malay-language newspapers in Malaysiareferred to the annex that was with Lee's letter.

The annex included in the letter also cites Umno Youth Deputy Chief Khairy Jamaluddin’s reference to the marginalisation of Singapore Malays.  The Straits Times also published a well-timed report on Monday (4 October) of Barisan National Youth’s acceptance of Khairy’s explanation for his comments made in August which upset the Malaysian Chinese community.  Just as the Malaysian Chinese Association Youth called on Khairy to prove he has no intentions of hurting the feeling of the Chinese community however, Khairy continued his choice of the use of the race card in his comments and was reported as saying that bumiputeras should be given priority in new sectors such as biotechnology and information communications technology (ICT), to ensure they are not left behind.

On a separate note, Malaysia had reason for pride as it launched Southeast Asia’s first space centre, in a milestone for the country which will see its first astronaut blast off next year.  Abdullah hailed the centre as a boost for national prestige and said Malaysia Space Centre signifies Malaysia’s achievement in space science. The RM100 million space centre is equipped with state-of-the-art laboratories to assist in work relating to satellite systems and has the capability to monitor and communicate with the Malaysian astronaut who would be assigned to the International Space Station. 

Abdullah said the Government was committed to enhancing the country’s capacity in space science research and innovation because Malaysia could not become a developed country without building on this important field. 

On the first Malaysian to go to space, Abdullah said that because the astronaut was a Muslim, the Government had to address how he could practise his religious obligations in space.  “We want our astronaut to show to the world that Islam is not a hindrance to development but can also explore space,” he added.  After a narrowing down of astronaut candidates to three Malay-Muslim men and one Indian woman from a nationwide contest of thousands of hopefuls earlier this year – sparking much speculation about the possibility of a non-Malay being Malaysia’s first astronaut – the choice of the final two candidates are two Malays, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, 34, and Faiz Khaleed, 26, both currently training in at Moscow's Star City before heading into space on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

Sources:

UNIMPRESSED! Response noted, not appreciated (New Straits Times, 4 October 2006)

Malaysia gives icy reply to Lee Kuan Yew apology (ANTARA, 3 October 2006)

Lee's apology: Cabinet not happy, but... (New Straits Times, 5 October 2006)

Cabinet backs PM’s decision (The Star, 5 October 2006)

M'sian PM draws line on remarks by MM Lee (The Straits Times, 5 October 2006)

M'sia FM reacts to LKY comments (Today, 5 October 2006)

Syed Hamid: His apology is not an apology (The Star, 4 October 2006)

Lee's statement could have incited feelings of Malaysians (The Star, 4 October 2006)

Lee Kuan Yew says sorry for comments (The Star, 3 October 2006)

MM says sorry to Abdullah for discomfort caused (The Straits Times, 3 October 2006)

Lee says sorry (New Straits Times, 3 October 2006)

Umno and MCA accept MM's 'apology' (The Straits Times/Bernama, 4 October 2006)

Reply gets prominent play in Malaysian media (The Straits Times, 4 October 2006)

BN Youth accepts Khairy's explanation (The Straits Times, 4 October 2006)

Khairy urged to prove sincerity (The Star, 5 October 2006)

Ensure more bumis in information communications technology (The Star, 3 October 2006)

PM: Centre shows our success in space science (The Star, 5 October 2006)

M'sia launches Southeast Asia's first space centre (The Straits Times, 4 October 2006)