A diplomatic scandal broke out between the Republic of Singapore and Malaysia after Singapore newspaper New Paper published an article entitled "Welcome to Malaysia, where it is easy to die and expensive to stay alive." The Malaysian Government decided that the article may have inflicted a severe material damage on its tourism industry.
The author of the article listed recent high-profile murders and attacks that took place in Malaysia at the end of the month. They include an attack on the founder of a major banking group AMMB Holdings Hussein Ahmad Nazhadi, chairman of NGO MyWatch R. Sri Sanjeevan, and two other Malays. All crimes were committed in broad daylight, in busy streets, and involved the use of firearms. Then the journalist noted that he personally hired a killer in Kuala Lumpur for only 2,000 dollars. The article caused a storm of indignation among Malaysian officials. For example, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia Dato' Sri Anifah Hj. Aman has expressed concern that the newspaper misled the reader with a sensational headline.
Deputy Chairman of the Crime Prevention Foundation Tan Sri Lee Tai Lam said that Singapore competes for tourists through unacceptable methods. "Yes, they have freedom of speech and can write whatever they want, but we also have the right to respond. After reading the article one gets the impression that the authors want to keep tourists from visiting Malaysia, as the country is allegedly unsafe."
Singaporeans have apologized. Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on behalf of the Director of Public Relations Teo Cheng said that the headline was wrong and irresponsible. Dominic Nathan, Chief Editor of New Paper stated that the editors did not intend to offend anyone, but just wanted to draw the readers' attention to the threat of armed violence in Malaysia, and that all the events described in the article were widely reported by the Malaysian media. However, New Paper has removed an article from its website and Facebook page.
However, on the following day the baton from Singapore was picked up by a Thai newspaper The Nation that published an article entitled "There is no law In Malaysia" under its "Opinion" column. "It seems like life in Malaysia is getting to be as dangerous as in some South American countries where gun violence has become the norm. This situation is not limited to one or two areas, but extends to the entire country," the author wrote.
"Armed criminals attack in the streets, in restaurants. Food joints that used to be open through the morning hours now close very early. Increasingly more people are not willing to risk being robbed during or after dinner. Under these circumstances we are almost relieved to read when a "victim" of criminals is an ATM. Thieves who disconnect and misplace ATMs seem nearly harmless compared to those who prey on people. The public cannot help but feel that we are in a state of lawlessness. The feeling of insecurity and nervousness is definitely growing," the author concludes.
According to the UN World Tourism Organization, Malaysia remains the sole representative of the South-East Asia in the ranking of the most visited tourist destinations, at the tenth place with 24.7 million tourists a year. However, the flow of tourists to the country has decreased in 2012. France retained the top spot as the main tourist Mecca of the world and was visited by 83 million people. While tourists spend an average of 645.8 U.S. dollars in France, in Malaysia they spend $808.
Recent shootings in the streets and general deterioration of the security situation may threaten the lucrative tourism industry of Malaysia, said Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Nazri. "The recent shootings in the streets may have negative consequences in the medium term. I am concerned that if this situation continues, it would adversely affect our tourism industry," The Malay Mail quoted the Minister.
In contrast to the political leadership of the country, Nazri was more objective. "I feel that this is a fair assessment of the situation. Criticism is not directed against us because Singapore is also selling tours to Johor at Legoland and Hello Kitty. They are just concerned about the situation as much as we are," said the Minister. Statistics show an increase in crime in Malaysia. According to PDRM Institute, during the first six months of 2013, 15,098 incidents of violent crime were recorded in Malaysia. Of this number, in 73 cases the use of firearms was reported. In June alone there were 17 such incidents, with most occurrences in Penang and Perak. Police leadership of Penang Island, a tourist center of the country, links the rise in crime with the abolition of the Emergency Ordinance under which the use of firearms with intent to kill or harm is punishable by death.
Tourism is the most profitable industry for any and all of South East Asian countries (10.7 percent of GDP, which is two to three times the world average). According to the World Tourism Organization, the region is the most dynamic in terms of an increase of the tourist flow (12 percent growth in the first four months of 2013). Among the leading cities are the ones in the countries embroiled in the controversy - Bangkok (16 million tourists in 2012), Kuala Lumpur (9.2), and Singapore (11.75 - fourth place). It is clear that one cannot ignore the fierce competition factor in the unfolding debate.