PETALING JAYA: It was vintage Dr Mahathir Mohamad as he addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York today, 15 years after he stood on the same stage to lambast the West and Israel in his final year as prime minister during his first tenure in power.
In his speech today, Mahathir spoke in defence of “small countries” against the dominance of powerful nations, condemned Israel, and highlighted the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
He also spoke out against Western values that undermine traditional marriage, as well as the exploitation of poor countries through slogans of free trade and environment.
“When I last spoke here in 2003, I lamented how the world had lost its way. I bemoaned the fact that small countries continued to be at the mercy of the powerful.
“I argued the need for the developing world to push for reform, to enhance capacity building and diversify the economy. We need to maintain control of our destiny,” he told his audience, which included Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah, Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu and Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad.
“But today, 15 years later the world has not changed much. If at all the world is far worse than 15 years ago.”
In his speech, Mahathir said the international community had turned a blind eye to the conflict in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where violence has killed thousands of Muslims and forced tens of thousands to flee to neighbouring countries.
“Yet the authorities of Myanmar including a Nobel Peace Laureate deny that this is happening,” he said, in an apparent reference to Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been widely criticised over her refusal to openly condemn her country’s military.
But his strongest words were reserved for Israel.
“The world does not care even when Israel breaks international laws, seizing ships carrying medicine, food and building materials in international waters. The Palestinians fired ineffective rockets which hurt no one. Massive retaliations were mounted by Israel, rocketing and bombing hospitals, schools and other buildings, killing innocent civilians including school children and hospital patients. And more,” he said.
“The world rewards Israel, deliberately provoking Palestine by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
Mahathir also spoke in defence of Malaysia’s palm oil industry, amid Western moves to boycott the commodity citing concerns for the environment.
Using his trademark sarcasm, he challenged critics who said the palm oil industry contributed to massive deforestation.
“These caring people forget that their boycott is depriving hundreds of thousands of people of jobs and a decent life.
“We in Malaysia care for the environment. Some 48% of our country remains virgin jungle. Can our detractors claim the same for their own countries?” he asked.
The prime minister also spoke out against the veto power now enjoyed by five countries in the UN Security Council, and renewed calls for reforms.
“Five countries on the basis of their victories 70 over years ago cannot claim to have a right to hold the world to ransom forever,” he said.
He also did not miss the opportunity to hit out at the previous Malaysian government, saying people had voted for a “new Malaysia”.
“We did this because the immediate past government indulged in the politics of hatred, of racial and religious bigotry, as well as widespread corruption.”