LETTER | Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohammad has never shied away from his "tell-it-like-it-is" persona. Ever since his first round as prime minister, the politician has been earning both respect as well as enemies thanks to his fiery words.
Somehow he has always gotten away with his comments with a shrug and our "That’s just our classic, sarcastic Tun M" attitude.
But the shrugging must come to an end when his careless words start to have a serious impact on Malaysia and its citizens. Careless words such as the thoughtless criticisms at the UN event on Sept 27 when Mahathir criticised India stating they “invaded and occupied” Jammu and Kashmir and asked New Delhi to work with Pakistan in resolving the issue.
Sticking your nose in a heated dispute that has nothing to do with you is never a good idea. Especially when you rely on one of those countries for a good amount of your national income. As expected, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi reacted to the careless and out-of-place criticism thrown about by Mahathir.
Last week, Reuters reported that India was planning on restricting imports from the country as a punishment. Citing an anonymous government source, Reuters wrote on how the Indian government was “looking for ways to limit palm oil imports and may place restrictions on other goods from the country”.
It may not sound like a big deal, but let me clarify - it is. India is the second-largest buyer of Malaysian palm oil with 150,000 tons imported monthly. Palm oil is arguably Malaysia’s greatest source of income and the country is already struggling with international palm oil bans and an ever-increasing competition with Indonesia. So to have Indian buyers actively looking to switch to Indonesian palm oil exporters is a big deal. It is the kind of move that can affect the economic state of Malaysia in a concrete manner.
In response to the Reuters article, Mahathir tried to calm down growing panic stating he had yet to receive "anything official". But India need not send “anything official” before punishing the whole of Malaysia thanks to Mahathir’s interference in Indian affairs.
On Sunday, Tun M, who is clearly feeling the panic, stated that his government will “study the impact of the action taken by India” but added, “They are exporting goods to Malaysia too. It’s not just one-way trade, its two-way trade.”
To clarify, in essence it actually is kind of a one-way trade. Looking at the facts, Malaysia’s import of Indian products constitutes only 0.2 percent of India’s GDP, while India’s total import of Malaysian products was 2.7 percent of Malaysia’s GDP. So, Mahathir’s threat of responding to India with our own ban means little to nothing for a country with the fifth biggest economy in the world and barely any reliance on Malaysian imports.
Mahathir had better start fixing this mess and that means more than sending Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok to do her brand of damage control which includes the suggestion of buying more sugar and buffalo meat from India. There is only so much buffalo meat Malaysians can eat.
Besides the import of buffalo and sugar, the smartest first move may be exporting good old Zakir Naik, the Indian fugitive desperately wanted by Indian authorities. Our prime minister needs to step on the gas and get ahead of the mess he caused which can be a serious problem for our already fragile economy.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.