Mahathir refuses to retract comments on Kashmir, even as Indian companies plan to stop buying Malaysian palm oil

Mahathir said he will not take back his comments on Kashmir, even after India’s oil seed companies threaten to stop buying palm oil from the country.
Reuters
  • Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad says he will not back down from comments he made in September about the Kashmir conflict.

  • Indians have expressed unhappiness over Mahathir’s Kashmir comments, calling for a nation-wide boycott of Malaysian goods and services.

  • On Monday, the industry association for oil seed companies in India told members to stop buying Malaysian palm oil.

  • Malaysia exported 6.84 billion ringgit (US$1.63 billion) worth of palm oil and palm-based products to India in 2018.

This article was last updated at 1:43pm on Oct 22, 2019.

Even if it means losing one of the nation’s biggest palm oil export markets, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad will not retract or change his comments on the Kashmir conflict, he told reporters on Tuesday (Oct 22).

“We speak out our minds and we don’t retract and change,” The Star quoted the 94-year-old leader as saying at a press conference.

Indians have issue with a statement Mahathir made in September that “despite UN resolution on Jammu and Kashmir, the country has been invaded and occupied”.

“We felt that the people of Kashmir had benefited from the resolution of the United Nations, and all we are saying is that we should all abide, not just India and Pakistan, but even the United States of America and other countries…Otherwise, what’s the good of having the UN?” The Star reported him saying on Tuesday.

The second-time PM added that while Malaysia needs to be “nice to people” as it relies on trade with others, it also has to “speak up for people”.

“So, sometimes what we say is liked by some and disliked by others,” The Star quoted him as saying.

 

India’s oil seed companies told to stop buying palm oil

On Monday, it was reported that India’s oil seed companies were told to stop buying palm oil from the South-east Asian country.

Malaysian state news agency Bernama reported that Atul Chaturvedi, president of the Solvent Extractors’ Association of India (SEAI), told members that the “strained relations” between Malaysia and India had “put a lot of responsibility on our industry in view of huge imports of palm oil from that country”.

Chaturvedi was also quoted as saying that the Indian government “has not taken kindly” to Mahathir’s comments, and said that Indian vegetable oil companies “should avoid purchases from Malaysia for the time being” to show their solidarity with the nation.

In a separate report, Reuters quoted SEAI executive director B.V. Mehta as saying that there are “many alternatives to Malaysian supplies” that Indian refiners “can easily tap”.

According to the report, Malaysia exported 6.84 billion ringgit (US$1.63 billion) worth of palm oil and palm-based products to India in 2018.

However, The Star reported that Mahathir appeared unfazed over SEAI’s advice to businesses.

“This is not the Indian government, so we will have to find out how we can deal and communicate with these people, because we are a trading nation and it’s bad having what amounts to a trade war,” he reportedly said.

Calls for boycott began in September

The backlash against Malaysia happened quickly after Mahathir’s Kashmir comments were first published on September 27.

At the time, Indian netizens called for a boycott on all things Malaysian, including low-cost carrier AirAsia. By early October, India was reportedly already considering sanctions on Malaysia as punishment for Mahathir’s comments.

According to Reuters, some refiners had already reacted by stopping palm oil shipments from Malaysia for the months of November and December. However, it added that it is also typical for India’s household palm oil consumption to fall in winter as the oil solidifies easily when temperatures fall.

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