Will China Now Boost Malaysia’s New Counterterrorism Center?

Malaysia’s deputy prime minister suggests that Beijing’s assistance could help boost the capabilities of a new facility.

Will China Now Boost Malaysia’s New Counterterrorism Center?
Credit: Flickr/AK Rockefeller

Malaysia’s visiting deputy prime minister suggests that Beijing’s assistance could help boost the capabilities of a new facility hosted by the Southeast Asian state.

Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is in China for a six-day working visit this week that will last until January 15.

The trip, Zahid’s second since assuming office in July 2015, includes meetings in Beijing with Guo Shengkun, China’s Public Security Minister, Meng Hongwei, the Interpol president, and Meng Jianzhu, Secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China, as well as a courtesy call to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

Thus far, the headlines during the visit have focused on efforts by the two countries to boost cooperation in several fields, including countering drug trafficking, fraud, and terrorism. Particular attention has been paid to cooperation related to fraud following Zahid’s revelation that Malaysia had deported 744 Chinese nationals over the past few years for fraud and gambling to the tune of 20 billion yuan, which he said was testament to bilateral cooperation. The two sides also discussed strengthening policing and security at the regional level ahead of the Interpol general assembly to be held in Beijing in September.

Yet the most interesting point of discussion begging for more coverage was talk of Chinese assistance for a new regional counter-messaging center hosted in Malaysia with U.S. help as part of the country’s ongoing efforts against the Islamic State (ISIS). On Thursday, Malaysia’s national news agency, Bernama, reported that Zahid said that Chinese technology and equipment could boost the center’s capabilities and pave the way for its usage by not just Southeast Asian countries, but Asian countries more generally.

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As I have detailed extensively before, the formation of Malaysia’s Regional Digital Counterterrorism Communication Center (RDC3) was announced by Prime Minister Najib Razak in September 2015 after Malaysia joined the U.S.-led Global Coalition to Counter ISIL (See: “When Will Malaysia Launch its New Center to Counter Islamic State Messaging?“). Malaysian officials have said that the RDC3, which was launched last year after some delay, had been proceeding with U.S. support as well as lessons learned from other similar centers that Washington has helped set up, even though they have been mum about the precise nature and extent of this collaboration in part due to sensitivities in the Malaysian domestic context (See: “Exclusive: US, Malaysia and the War on the Islamic State“).

Given this context, the idea of Chinese assistance for RDC3 is quite striking. That said, no further specifics were publicly provided by either side on whether resources had actually been already devoted for this purpose, as opposed to being discussed as a potential area of cooperation or considered along with a series of other potential action items that may or may not actually pan out. But there mere discussion of it is interesting enough, and warrants close scrutiny going forward.