Malaysia’s China Tourism Trap – Analysis

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It has been stated recently that Malaysia will lose out on at least RM30 billion in tourist dollars this year if it discriminates against visitors from China, projects the chronic overreliance on low hanging fruits in salvaging its tourism industry and in desperately banking on Chinese tourists as its main source of revenue.

Staunch defence on the need to rely on Chinese tourists has been seen, where the Tourism Minister has repeatedly argued that China has been unfairly targeted with it being highlighted as a ‘high-risk’ country when many other countries have also topped the charts of Covid-19 infections and deaths, pointing out the US recording 99 million infections with 1.08 million deaths. The minister pointed out that China, on the other hand, registered 31,000 deaths with 10.16 million cases recorded, further arguing that with China’s 1.4 billion population, the death toll is only 0.00002 percent.

All these portray the lack of understanding or disregard for the reality at play, in being quick to blindly accept the “official data and figures” presented. It reflects a denial syndrome on the reality on the ground, even stating that if any action was to be taken, it would have to be on American travellers in pointing out the case count and death rate in the US.

The data on the Covid situation in China has been willingly accepted, in arguing that only 10.9 million Covid-19 cases have been reported in China, and compared it to the 99 millions cases in the US. Comparison has also been made on America’s death rate at 1.08 million while China recorded “only” 36,000.

In pointing out the US in particular, and in saying that America’s case count and death rate are more serious than the current situation in China, reflect the lopsided acceptance and perception on the official Covid statistics in China, amidst the truth and the stark reality on the ground on the Covid situation in the country where mortuaries are overloaded and patients are scrambling for treatment.

No one would have believed and accepted in totality the official data presented in China’s Covid management, and by doing so, reflects the all-lasting Chinese pandering and trap in Malaysia’s policy making. Fear of Chinese retaliation and in inciting its wrath through any potential restrictions imposed,as can be seen in the Chinese action on South Korea and other countries for their similar moves, has held back Malaysia’s options.

It also shows a lack of real, credible and effective strategy in coming up with a resilient, comprehensive and long term strategic outlook for Malaysia’s tourism agenda, which remains at the mercy of the Chinese market and capital.

According to global tracker OurWorldInData, daily confirmed Covid-19 cases peaked last December 21 in the United States with about 70,000 cases on average. However, China ceased reporting infections last December 25, ahead of Beijing’s decision to reopen international borders from January 8.

China stopped its official death tally, changed the parameters on the designation of Covid deaths and concealed the true situation based on facts, and this has been condemned the world over including WHO. The lack of adequate and transparent epidemiological and viral genomic sequence data being reported from the Chinese government, with the lack of transparency, it compounded concern for the potential for a variant to emerge in China and potentially to spread well beyond its borders, a variant that might even supersede the current most contagious form, the Kraken or XBB1.5.

This remains one of the primary reasons why so many other countries have imposed restrictions, including the EU, and that this is not based on China discrimination as what Beijing has always parroted.

It is based on the cost-benefit calculations on the impact on each of the country’s internal capacity and readiness to handle the potential risks from such a high risk repercussion from a country that is battling an explosive infection drive, driven by reckless and irresponsible action by the Chinese government with no exit planning, leaving its citizens at the riskiest vulnerability.

South Korea stood firm to its decision to impose restrictions. In its case, more than half of its imported cases are coming from China.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency stated that up to 80% of imported confirmed cases in South Korea are coming from China, and the number of people traveling from China who tested positive for Covid-19 went up 14 times from November to December.

Wastewater testing and periodical symptomatic tests are yet another cosmetic drive as self assurances and in denial syndrome, comfortable in the policymakers’ own utopian world.

In the move not to impose restrictions, the Malaysian tourism policymakers hope that they can win the Chinese heart and favour in choosing Malaysia as their preferred destination as opposed to those who have closed doors to them. Yet, the reality remains that the country remains far superior to its neighbouring countries in this regard, Singapore and Thailand.

According to data from Trip.com Group, Malaysia is not even in the Top 10 List of top places searched by Chinese travellers between December 26 to January 5. Thailand took the top spot and Singapore was at seventh.

Malaysia needs to learn from the early stages of the epidemic in 2020 when steps were not taken to prevent the entry of tourists at risk of carrying Covid-19, contributing to further problems that could be managed earlier

It shows a stark reality of the ineffectiveness of the tourism ministry in coming up with a future-driven and bold strategic plan in resetting our course and pivoting away towards an eternal reliance on China as the easiest low hanging fruit.

One of the most pressing and causal factors of the initial phase of the pandemic was China’s unwillingness to admit and share the truth and data on the spread of the virus, and its efforts to dismiss the severity of the virus and the ease of the spread. Chinese citizens were allowed to leave China freely at that time, but internal movements were curbed, which portrays the flawed and disguised approaches.

Growing unease and wariness among the majority of the Malaysian populace on the threat of the new wave in China and potential new variants that will plunge the country into another round of restrictions have been gaining traction, which have compelled the leadership to make further assurances. Barring these growing calls by the public, the policymakers have limited options but to continue with the reliance on the easiest way out for the revenue platform, and in avoiding upsetting the apple cart.

If Malaysia lack the boldness to take early steps as have been taken by many other countries for the sake of appeasing China, it will signal yet another subdued and fearful move in its forever-China pander and submission at the expense of its larger independent interests and the lives and interests of the people.

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