A comic book has drawn the ire of many Malaysians. As a result, the Malaysian government has decided to ban it.
Titled Belt & Road Initiative for Win-Winism, the comic book was a collaboration between a curator from the Asian Comic Cultural Museum Hew Kuan Yau and Malaysian comic artist, Tomato.
But is it really that dangerous?
It’s to do with China.
Unless you’ve been living under a coconut shell, you would’ve probably heard of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
It’s a strategy by the economic powerhouse to take over the world. Business wise that is, through investments and development in a whopping 152 countries across Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas.
Malaysia has had some investments flowing in from the country through the development of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL).
However, what made this comic sensitive are several factors. Let’s go over them one by one, shall we?
The 9 dash line.
The issue of the comic surfaced around the same time as the release of DreamWorks’ latest animated film, Abominable.
While it’s kid-friendly, Southeast Asian governments aren’t happy with the depiction of the region’s map which showcased a U-shaped dotted line encircling most of the South China Sea. It’s called the 9 dash line.
The U-shaped nine-dash line has been unilaterally claimed by China and is found on all Chinese maps to illustrate its claims over the resource-filled South China Sea.
But the problem is that the nine-dash line also extends past areas that have been claimed by other countries, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan. This has been a point of contention for all the nations in this region for decades.
In 2016, China’s claim was considered illegal. But, the fear lingers and this resulted in the ban of Abominable as well.
A super problem.
Back to the comic. The curator of the museum, Hew, also known as Superman Hew, is a member of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) which forms part of the current Malaysian government.
Hew has been known for his vocal pro-China views. Although he no longer holds leadership positions in the party, he is still very much active as a member.
For Malay-Muslim hardliners, DAP is seen as a pro-Chinese party who is out to get them. The comic issue blew up because former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak took to social media to quiz if the comic was a form of propaganda.
Najib also uploaded several images among which featured current Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad showcasing the comic to Chinese president, Xi Jinping.
The comic was not sold in news stands or bookstores unlike others. Instead, it was apparently distributed in several schools.
What’s more, these books were sent to school libraries for free. This prompted Malaysian Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik to ban the comic books in schools.
Critics of the ruling government claimed that the comic was used as a propaganda tool to brainwash the younger generation. The opposition’s call to debate the comic was also recently dismissed.
This led the Malaysian Home Ministry to announce a total ban of the comic on the grounds that it could “endanger public order and security” and “distort the mind of the public”.
But should it have been banned?
Not really as Malaysians have the freedom to read the comic book, according to renowned local cartoonist Zunar.
“Until today, I haven’t read the whole content of the comic. Personally, I may or may not agree with the content, but I am strongly against the banning of the comic,” he said in a statement to Free Malaysia Today.
Zunar, who has had his own cartoons banned during Najib’s rule, said he agree that distributing the comic in schools was uncalled for. But Malaysians are capable of making their own decisions.
“The principle is simple: ‘Cartoons and comics are a matter of interpretation. If you do not agree with the content, no problem. But do not use your interpretation as a law to ban it. Don’t like? Don’t read!”
Hew and others are currently being investigated by the police in their involvement of producing the comic book and distributing some 2,500 copies in schools.
Cover image sourced from CITYPlus FM.