By Alan Chan

KOTA KINABALU, Malaysia--China’s efforts to strengthen its influence in Malaysia's media organisations, think tanks and universities as well as in the political sphere is putting the country’s ability to chart an independent course in its foreign and domestic affairs at risk, an analyst has warned.

These efforts will overtime see Malaysia's resolve in protecting its sovereignty erode, potentially affecting the country’s claims in the South China Sea, its support for the Uyghurs and its ability to pursue independent domestic policies, Collins Chong Yew Keat said in a recent opinion piece.

Chong, who is an internationalisation and strategic management scholar, said China has been engaged in an intense influence-seeking drive worldwide, but has been particularly effective in Malaysia, as the country has little awareness of its activities and has not taken steps to counter this intense propagandistic drive.

Citing a recent report by Freedom House organisation which conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights, Chong said Malaysia remains vulnerable to these efforts by China to shape the narrative and landscape of the media and public opinion through various means.

“More than half of the total 30 countries included in the analysis were experiencing a very high or high degree of media influence efforts by China in which the intensity of these efforts increased over the past three years in 18 countries. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its proxies, alarmed by the overwhelming negative public and global sentiments against China, are using more sophisticated and increasingly coercive measures to shape media narratives and to suppress critical reporting.

“As reported, the intense scope of influence-seeking in media organisations, think tanks and universities as well as in the political spheres from Taiwan to Australia have served to meet the broader global purpose and agenda of Beijing’s both soft and hard power goals by 2049. These activities have been met with stronger pushbacks by Western states, owing to their heightened awareness, unlike in Malaysia,” he said.

Chong said the manifestation of these influence operations by China included muted criticism of China’s incursions into Malaysia’s maritime boundaries in the South China Sea, a suppression of criticism of controversial projects including land reclamation, rare earths mining and the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) and the cooling-off of the government’s support for the Uyghur cause which saw the country during a United Nations vote on abuse of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China.

Malaysia was among 1 countries that abstained from voting in favour of debating widespread abuses in China’s Xinjiang region along with Argentina, Armenia, Benin, Brazil, The Gambia, India, Libya, Malawi, Mexico and Ukraine in what has been attributed to intense lobbying by Beijing.

The U.S. along with several right minded countries had last month brought a draft decision targeting China to the UN’s top rights body, seeking as a bare minimum a discussion on Xinjiang after United Nations rights chief Michelle Bachelet released her long-delayed Xinjiang report, citing crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.

“We have been loud recently on the issue of foreign political funding and interference, but it remains to be seen the extent of our response to the influence shaping narrative by foreign forces, whether we will remain subdued due to dependence on China or if we will stand up more boldly in protecting our national interests and sovereignty and ready to reevaluate our policy direction in an honest, open and transparent way involving greater public discourse and awareness,” he said.

“It remains of critical importance for our future national survival and interests, that our principles and pillars of strength and conviction in our policy steadfastness and orientation remain solid, unwavering and unyielding,” he added.