• Short Summary

    In Malaysia, the federal government is about to begin a debate on proposals to set up a privately-funded Chinese language university.

  • Description

    In Malaysia, the federal government is about to begin a debate on proposals to set up a privately-funded Chinese language university. The government rejected the university proposals earlier. Political observers believe the move could heighten the country's racial tensions, which are a continuing problem.

    SYNOPSIS: This is Kuala Lumpur. In September, Education Minister Datuk Musa Hitan announced the government had turned down an application from a private Chinese company to set up the Merduka, or independence university for minority Chinese students who cannot get into the five existing universities. Teaching in Chinese instead of the national Malay language, was said to be against the country's education policy.

    The opposition Democratic Action Party, dominated by Chinese, claims that more than twenty thousand students with the necessary qualifications have been denied entry to university. Angry Chinese associations who described the Merduka decision as a rejection of their heritage, have warned it could cause serious unrest. Chinese number three and a half million in Malaysia's twelve and a half million population, but economically and educationally they are generally ahead of the country's five million Malays. The government has pledged to help the Malays catch up with the other races.

    While the majority Malays control the country's political and law enforcement apparatus, the ethnic Chinese control most of the capital. The ruling National Front coalition under Prime Minister, Datuk Hussein Onn has laid down an economic policy which compels new businesses to take on Malay partners. The policy aims to give Malays thirty per cent control of business capital by 1990. The Chinese are resisting it. Economic friction is,along with the issue of religion, one of the major causes of Malaysia's racial troubles.

    The Indian population, which is mostly Hindu, was outraged last summer when Moslem extremists desecrated some of their temples in Kuala Lumpur. Eight temple guards, who apprehended four Moslems desecrating idols in their temple, slashed them to death, and are at present on trial for manslaughter. These events led to a sharp deterioration of Indian relations with the Malays, who follow Islam, the state religion, and who are guaranteed freedom of worship under the constitution.

    Under British rule in the nineteenth century, Indian and Chinese labourers were imported to work in the rubber and palm oil plantations. Both races are thought to be industrious and reliable. The British consigned Malays to working in rice paddies, and other forms of agriculture.

    Some Indians and Chinese who came as immigrants prospered, but by the end of the last century, the Malays were left far behind economically. And the work division, which began so arbitrarily, has remained. Today, the Chinese have advanced through their trading skills, and many Indians continue to work on the rubber plantations. But, by and large, the Malays still work on farms or in the fishing industry. Many in the large urban centres have low-skill jobs.

    Despite the race riots of 1969, and some lingering animosities, progress had been made in harmonising the races. But the Merduka university decision, and the temple desecrations, have made race a potentially explosive issue. The recent influx of vietnamese refugees has aggravated the situation.

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