Malaysia threatens to buy Chinese planes if Europe bans palm oil

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad arrives to attend Pakistan National Day parade in Islamabad on March 23, 2019. (AP)
Updated 24 March 2019

Malaysia threatens to buy Chinese planes if Europe bans palm oil

  • Mahathir said 600,000 people stood to lose their livelihoods if palm oil estates were to shut
  • Malaysia is world’s second biggest palm oil producer, after Indonesia

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will buy planes from China if the European Union (EU) goes ahead with a ban on palm oil, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Sunday at the launch of a charm offensive to persuade people to back the controversial crop.

He said the bloc had been unfair on Malaysia and other palm oil producing countries because of its preferential treatment of soy-based and vegetable-based oils made by EU countries.

“If we have to buy fighter jets, we will have to buy from China. I think they do not lack in technology,” said Mahathir. But the country did not need very “sophisticated” airplanes and only needed small aircraft, he told reporters at the launch of Love MY Palm Oil, a campaign to rally Malaysians to support the government’s agenda. “We will do this because they (the EU) have unfairly prohibited the entry of palm oil.”

The campaign is a push back against anti-palm oil campaigners, who say the crop causes deforestation and the destruction of wildlife.

Mahathir said 600,000 people stood to lose their livelihoods if palm oil estates were to shut.

Malaysia has been railing against EU anti-palm oil measures since December, when French lawmakers voted to remove palm oil from the country’s bio-fuel scheme from next January.

Malaysia is the second biggest palm oil producer after Indonesia. But analysts had different opinions about the impact of a palm oil ban on Malaysia’s economy.

“Most people do not realize that this is not a new thing. The first call to boycott Malaysian palm oil actually happened in the 1990s, a long time ago. The NGOs have always been unhappy with palm oil plantations,” Prof. James Chin, director of the Asia Institute, told Arab News.

Dr. Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said the EU was a major palm oil buyer, but that it was not the largest or only palm oil buyer for Malaysia and Indonesia. 

“For the EU they can switch to a number of alternative oil products, but of course the costs would be higher,” he told Arab News. “This is a tough period for planters and palm oil producers, with prices hitting another low cycle.” 

Thus, every bit of palm oil sale is to be fought over tooth and nail,” he told Arab News. “Malaysia has had shifting rhetoric on diplomatic and economic relations with a number of major powers, so this is perhaps just the latest quid pro quo stance to counter the palm oil ban.” 

He said Malaysia may change its position as it had encouraged diversification of its crops.

“At the end, the business decision by many planters is still that oil palm would bring in faster and more profits. The durian industry is taking off too.”

But Chin said the impact of an EU palm oil ban would be damaging for Malaysia in the long run as it may have a domino effect, especially in the North American markets.

“My guess is Malaysia and Indonesia will be mounting a joint campaign to stop the European Parliament from passing the rules as they have done joint lobbying before to members of the European Parliament.”

Sanders attacked for past praise of communist regimes

Updated 26 February 2020

Sanders attacked for past praise of communist regimes

  • Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg and Pete Buttigieg all seized on visits Sanders made to the USSR, the Sandinista-controlled Nicaragua and Fidel Castro’s Cuba in the 1980s
  • Joe Biden: He (Sanders) seems to have found more inspiration in the Soviets, Sandinistas, Chavistas, and Castro than in America

WASHINGTON: Bernie Sanders’ past praise of communist regimes like Cuba and the Soviet Union has come back to haunt him, his rivals for the Democratic White House nomination seeking to paint the frontrunner as a friend of left-wing dictators.
Fellow Democratic hopefuls Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg and Pete Buttigieg all seized on visits Sanders made to the USSR, the Sandinista-controlled Nicaragua and Fidel Castro’s Cuba in the 1980s as evidence he is a threat to the US democratic and capitalist system.
Sanders, who describes himself as a “democratic socialist,” was pressed on CBS’s “60 Minutes” program on Sunday about positive comments he made three decades ago about communist states, particularly his statement that Castro had vastly improved education and health care in Cuba.
“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba, but you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad,” the 78-year-old politician said.
“When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?“
Biden, who Sanders has edged out as the 2020 Democratic frontrunner, fired back:
“Make no mistake: Bernie Sanders’ comments on Fidel Castro are a part of a larger pattern throughout his life to embrace autocratic leaders and governments across the globe,” the centrist former vice president said in a statement.
“He seems to have found more inspiration in the Soviets, Sandinistas, Chavistas, and Castro than in America.”
Buttigieg compared Sanders to President Donald Trump who he said has “cozied up to dictators,” adding the country needs a leader “who will be extremely clear in standing against regimes that violate human rights abroad.”
With Sanders in pole position heading into South Carolina’s primary this weekend, the controversy offers his rivals a precious chance to halt his momentum when they clash on the debate stage later on Tuesday.
Sanders’ alignment with the far left in US politics has always left him vulnerable to attack; Trump and other Republicans have branded him a “communist.”
But his Cuba comments have come to the forefront in the fight for voter support in Florida, home to a large Cuban-American population strongly opposed to Castro’s regime and holding substantial political sway in the southern state.
Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York mayor, targeted that electorate as he tweeted that Castro “left a dark legacy of forced labor camps, religious repression, widespread poverty, firing squads, and the murder of thousands of his own people.”
“But sure, Bernie, let’s talk about his literacy program,” Bloomberg said.
Sanders’ denies any support for dictators. Critics say his record suggests otherwise.
As mayor of the small city of Burlington, Vermont, he visited Nicaragua in 1985 and afterward hailed Daniel Ortega’s revolution against the Central American country’s landowner elite.
That was a view commonly held among the American left, especially as the administration of Ronald Reagan supported the right-wing Nicaraguan Contra fighters accused of numerous terror-like atrocities.
In 1988 Sanders visited Russia seeking to establish a sister-city pact with Yaroslavl, northeast of Moscow.
It was hardly unique: there were several dozen US-USSR sister city relationships at the time, according to Sister Cities International.
Upon his return, Sanders applauded Russian gains in health care, while adding they were 10 years behind the United States.
He said his hosts were friendly and spoke honestly about problems, especially in housing and struggling industries.
He offered no praise of the government and communist system, and noted Russians very much liked Reagan, who had just days earlier held a summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, which Sanders called “a major step forward for humanity.”
Likewise after visiting Cuba in 1989, Sanders praised its achievements in education and health care, calling Castro’s revolution “profound,” but also noting the lack of political freedoms.
“The question is how you bring both economic and political freedom together in one society,” he said at the time, according to the Rutland Daily Herald.
Sanders’ position echoes that of president Barack Obama, who reestablished diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2015, with Biden as his vice president.
Obama said on a landmark 2016 Havana visit that the government “should be congratulated” for its achievements in education and health care — while criticizing its human rights violations and communist-rooted economy which he said was “not working.”
Sanders told “60 Minutes” that his support for certain achievements in communist countries did not make him a friend of repressive leaders.
“I don’t trade love letters with a murdering dictator,” he said, referring to Trump’s friendship with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
Whether that carries with Cuban voters in Florida remains an open question.