Messed Up Comms Between Ministers Leave Negative Perception On Cabinet's Leadership

Following the confusion about the meeting between Chinese envoy Dr Huang Huikang, ministers are having a row about protocols and who calls the shots.

Cover image via SAYS

1. It all began when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also known as Wisma Putra, decided to call up China’s ambassador Dr Huang Huikan for a meeting over his controversial remarks during his visit to Petaling Street. Deputy Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Reezal Naina Merican was the one who issued the order.

Image via Straits Times

2. However, Tourism Minister Nazri Aziz said the meeting was called off for one reason: Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman is away from Malaysia, so acting minister, Datuk Hamzah Zainudin should have been the one to issue the order and not Reezal.

Image via MyNewsHub

Tourism and Culture Minister Nazri Abdul Aziz said should Huang was to be called by Wisma Putra, it must first be by the foreign minister of Malaysia after having consulted the prime minister.

Nazri added that in their absence, the capacity of acting foreign minister then falls to Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister Hamzah Zainuddin.

"The deputy minister cannot call the ambassador because the acting minister is Hamzah."

"That's why when I confirmed with him (Hamzah) that he hasn't received instructions from both the foreign minister or the prime minister (to summon Huang) that I concluded that there's no necessity for the ambassador to see Wisma Putra," he said.

3. In his defence, Deputy Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Reezal Naina Merican insisted that he made the correct decision to call Huang for a meeting, as he had obtained the approval from his superior. He added that questioning Wisma Putra's decision was "a weak, shallow, and careless act".

Deputy Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Reezal Naina Merican

Image via Greater Malaysia

“Therefore, it’s unfortunate and totally untrue to assume that I, as deputy minister, had made my own decision without following Wisma Putra’s procedures and protocol,” Reezal said in a statement.

“I regret that there are certain parties who made baseless accusations that complicated Wisma Putra’s efforts to handle this issue firmly and well,” he added.

"Calling the Chinese ambassador to give an explanation to Wisma Putra is normal."

"What is unusual and broke protocol was when a member of the government administration 'jumped' and made loose accusations against the actions taken by Wisma Putra."

"Questioning the collective decision by Wisma Putra was a weak, shallow, and careless act," he said in a statement.

4. Responding through a statement from New York, Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman also reaffirmed what Reezal said was true, saying that the action to call up an ambassador is a "common practice"

Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman

Image via Reuters/The Malay Mail Online

“I would like to clarify that calling the Chinese ambassador to Wisma Putra is a common practice."

“I have never once had to cancel my instructions to call the Chinese ambassador to the Foreign Ministry to make explanations."

5. Datuk Seri Anifah Aman added that his deputy's action was right in the eyes of the law, and he had consulted PM Najib Razak about the issue

This practice is routine and is in line with article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961, he added.

“As a sovereign nation, we also have to state our position to China clearly,” he said.

“In this matter, I had discussed with Prime Minister (Datuk Seri Najib Razak), I have decided to summon China’s ambassador to present himself at Wisma Putra to provide clarification."

“I am also of the view that this matter should not be taken to the ministerial level, as the normal practice is for the matter to be handled at the senior official level at Wisma Putra,” he added.

6. Meanwhile, Tourism Minister Nazri Abdul Aziz admitted his mistake for making assumptions and reassured that he did not mean to interfere with the affairs of the Foreign Affairs Ministry

Tourism and Culture Minister Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz admitted he made a mistake when he dealt with the diplomatic flap where Ambassador Huang Huikang of China was summoned for his statement made at Petaling Street last Friday.

However, Nazri emphasised that he did not mean to meddle in the affairs of the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

"There is no intention to interfere," he told Malaysiakini.

7. Nazri went on to explain that he was unaware that it was Anifah's decision to call in the ambassador since the foreign minister was overseas

"I told the ambassador not to worry because, normally, the foreign minister will call, but not the deputy minister," he explained.

"I didn't know that the foreign minister had made the decision because it is not the practice that a deputy minister can call in the ambassador as only another minister representing the foreign minister can do this," said Nazri, who is the MP for Padang Rengas.

"Also, in diplomatic practice, I would be upset if a Malaysian ambassador is summoned by a deputy minister," he said.

"Certainly, now, that is all changed and I am not aware. But one thing is sure, that I am a very experienced minister and interfering is certainly not my intention," Nazri added.

8. All these miscommunications and confusion have left the public to question the Cabinet's leadership. Even Datuk Anifah Aman says the whole situation has caused the public to have a "negative perception".

Image via Mole

In his statement, Anifah chided his colleagues for interfering with his ministry’s duties in seeking an explanation from the Chinese envoy over his controversial comment on alleged racism in Malaysia last Friday.

“I am very disappointed because several Cabinet members took action and issued media statements without referring to me first,” the Sabah-born said.

“In truth, this matter could be resolved amicably by Wisma Putra without the interference of other ministers. Instead, their interference has given a negative perception among the public,” he said.

He warned fellow Cabinet members not to repeat their actions and attempts to usurp his ministerial duties in future.

Following his controversial remarks during his 25 September visit to Petaling Street, Chinese envoy Dr Huang Huikang met up with Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister Datuk Hamzah Zainudin yesterday to explain himself:

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