For the first time in the country’s history, a Malaysian of Chinese descent, Brigadier General Datuk Toh Choon Siang, has achieved the rank of commander of the 1st Infantry Division. A two-star General, he is one of only two other non-Malays to hold the post.
— Malaysian Army (@TenteraDarat) May 28, 2018
Before this, he was the first Chinese commander of Selangor’s 11th Brigade.
Malaysia’s military, where service is optional, and enrollment predominantly Malay, has had a difficult time appealing to other ethnic groups in the country. Chinese especially have been difficult to recruit in recent years, with less than 1% represented among the ranks.
Toh hopes that this will change, remembering that in his days as a new recruit there were 36 other Chinese who enlisted with him out of a group of 160.
Adding that more attention should be given to attracting this demographic, from publishing calls in Chinese newspapers, to going out to Chinese villages to speak with youth, he added that privates in training are now given a good starting salary of RM2,000 (US$500), only slightly below the average median wage of RM2,160.
One reason why he believes the profession is no longer appealing to Chinese youth is that they seek to climb quickly up the professional ladder.
“Chinese youngsters want to be somebody in five years’ time,” he said. However, in the army you must work your way up.
He hopes his appointment, along with Liew Chin Tong being made the first Chinese Deputy Defense Minister, will be examples to fellow Chinese that promotions and great achievements are possible in uniform.
Raised in a military family, Toh joined the army as soon as they would accept him, having been turned away at 16 for being “too young.” His father served in the British air force during World War II, and his brothers enlisted in the navy and air force.
“If my father were alive, he would be very proud. Looking back, I think I’ve achieved a lot,” he told media.
Sir, we couldn’t agree with you more. Congratulations.
Ed. Note: Headline was amended for clarity