PETALING JAYA: An Umno Youth leader has accused Dr Mahathir Mohamad of recklessly risking an Indian boycott of Malaysian palm oil in an alleged attempt to gain international popularity with his criticism of New Delhi’s Kashmir policy.
Mohd Izwan Mohd Noor, a member of Umno Youth’s economic monitoring committee, said Mahathir’s government seemed “hell bent on fighting everyone” even as palm oil exports were declining.
“The time for running our mouths and gaining popularity on the world stage, like in the 90s, has passed,” he said in an interview with FMT.
Mahathir’s previous 22-year tenure as prime minister covered the entire 1990s.
The prime minister has stood by his speech at the recent session of the UN General Assembly, in which he accused India of “invading Kashmir and Jammu” despite a UN resolution on the territory.
His remarks sparked an online backlash, with Indian social media users calling for a boycott of Malaysia.
According to news reports, India may review its imports of palm oil and other Malaysian products and an Indian trade organisation has advised its members not to buy palm oil from Malaysia.
Izwan said diplomatic tact was important at a time the Malaysian economy was not doing well.
“Whatever we say, whether in causing alarm over fiscal debt or in quarrelling with neighbours, will have an impact on Malaysia’s economy,” he added.
He claimed that Malaysia was no longer the darling of investors, now that its neighbours had caught up with or overtaken it in attracting foreign money.
He said there were proper channels to affect outcomes of issues arising in other countries.
“And there are smart ways to gain leverage from which to exert pressure. It appears awareness of basic diplomatic tools is absent in the government led by Pakatan Harapan.”
Firdaos Rosli, an economist with the Institute of Strategic and International Studies, said he believed Mahathir had political reasons for his remarks and had likely calculated their effect.
“I believe the fallout will be minimal and very temporary, if any at all,” he said. “Boycotts don’t usually last long.”
Any disruption of exports to India, he added, would also affect importers in that country. “Our best response to any boycott plan is to just keep quiet and let the issue blow over.”
Firdaos said a bigger concern was possible US trade sanctions as these would affect many industries and supply chains on a national scale.
“This is something we must avoid,” he said. “We need to exhaust all diplomatic channels to prevent this.”