Why Malaysian Chinese do not want to join the military

  By Koon Yew Yin* (in Mysinchew.com website of November 22, 2010)
  Guest Writer

Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi recently said in Parliament that the reason Chinese and Indians made up only a tiny proportion of Army recruits was because their "patriotism spirit is not high enough". This is a narrow view of patriotism and it is misleading the public. It is akin to saying that if you do not vote for the Barisan Nasional government you are not patriotic’.
Dr Lim Teck Ghee in his recent article on this issue suggested that the government should engage independent researchers who are not afraid to tell the truth to find out why the non-Malays are not so keen to join the military.
I am not sure I agree with Dr Lim that we need further studies to ascertain the reasons as to why non-Malay recruitment is at a low level, and if this is owing to non-Malay lack of patriotism or to some other factor. The reasons are clearly obvious.
I suspect that Dr Lim, being a fair and objective scholar, decided not to jump the gun and to single out the widely-held public opinion that it is the discriminatory government policies against the non-Malays that are responsible for the low level of participation in the military and for the alleged lack of patriotism.
How to measure patriotism
The sense of patriotism is a complex one but it does not include supporting your country and your government all the time. It can include supporting your country but not the government of the day, especially when that government is perceived to engage in policies and programmes that treat you as second class citizens.
Unfortunately, the Malaysian Chinese do not feel that the current government has treated them fairly or deserves their loyalty. They have come to the point when they are now saying “Go and do your own killing”.
Patriotism can be expressed in many ways, including campaigning against a corrupt or unjust Government.
True patriots hate injustice in their own country more than anywhere else. Those who stand up in defence of human rights and good governance are patriots. The ordinary people who work diligently, pay taxes and bring up their families to be good citizens without being dependent on the state are also real patriots. Law abiding citizens are patriots as compared to law breakers or those who bend the laws. Finally, no one can say that I am not patriotic just because I do not agree with the Defence Minister’s statements.
I concede that there may be other reasons to explain the Chinese reluctance to join the military but these have nothing to do with the lack of patriotism. There is a Cantonese saying “Hoi chai mu tong ping, hoi chai mu cho kait”. Literally it means that the “good son does not become a soldier and good wood does not become sandals”. Perhaps this deep seated cultural aversion to the military also explains why Chinese youth are reluctant to join the military. However, a fair, just and widely admired government and equitable policies can overcome such cultural complexes.
Let’s not forget that the courageous defence to the Japanese takeover of Malaya in the Second World War was mainly put up by the Chinese who paid for their patriotism to the country with countless lives and other sacrifices. Let’s also not forget that the emergency was won with Chinese blood and that the majority of Chinese rallied round a non-communist government. The historical evidence is clear that when their country is in danger and they are fighting for a cause they believe in, Malaysian Chinese are not lacking for patriotism.
The price of patriotism
Besides the military forces, the government and its agencies require millions of employees but clearly, non-Malays have been denied a fair share of the employment. When I was working for the Public Works Department from 1957-1962, there was a large majority of non-Malay employees. But, when I recently visited my old office, I could not help wondering if I was in Indonesia as there was hardly a non-Malay worker in sight.
Hundreds of thousands of patriotic non-Malays are trying daily in vain to get employment in the government services. That is why so many non-Malays immigrate to find better countries to live in. Many have gone to work in nearby Singapore which incidentally is doing much better than us as a result of this non-Malay exodus.
Today, Singapore is poised to overtake Malaysia as the third largest economy in South-East Asia with a GDP of US$210 billion and a GDP per capita of US$36,537. The Malaysian GDP per capita of US$6,975 is five times smaller than that of Singapore, although we are nearly 500 times larger in size. It does not take rocket science to find out why this situation has come about. The human capital gain that Singapore has obtained at the expense of Malaysia is making all the difference.
Patriotism in Malaysia - if you are a non-Malay - does not find you work in the government service or pay your bills. It does not ensure a bright and equitable future for your children. Umno leaders - rather than mourning and groaning - should appreciate the fact that millions of non-Malays continue to be loyal and patriotic to the country despite the many reasons for not doing so.

*Koon Yew Yin, an engineer and corporate figure, is a well-known philanthropist whose gracious offer of RM30 million donation to the Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (Utar) was snubbed by the MCA apparently due to his demand for total transparency and accountability.