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.”

Indian police open case against Kashmir social media users

Updated 56 min 59 sec ago

Indian police open case against Kashmir social media users

  • Police say Internet users misuse social media ‘to propagate a secessionist ideology and promote unlawful activities’
  • Ban on popular social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter remains in Kashmir

NEW DELHI: Authorities in Indian-controlled Kashmir have registered a case against unidentified Internet users who employed virtual private networks, or VPNs, to circumvent a social media ban in the disputed region, police said Tuesday, in an apparent effort to stop their use.
Police said they misused social media “to propagate a secessionist ideology and promote unlawful activities.”
“Hundreds of suspected misusers have been identified and are being probed,” said Tahir Ashraf, who heads the police cyber division in Srinagar, the region’s main city.
Police said in a statement Monday that they have seized “a lot of incriminating material,” adding that the accused could be charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which also allows the government to designate individuals as “terrorists.”
Police officials questioned several users about their social media posts. However, no formal arrests have been made.
Inspector-General Vijay Kumar appealed to the general public not to use social media via VPNs.
Kashmiris are evading censorship of the Internet and social media by using VPNs, which are widely used globally to access restricted websites, after authorities in January allowed the restive region’s 7 million people to access government-approved websites, six months after cutting off the Internet entirely.
In August last year, India stripped Kashmir of its semi-autonomy and statehood and imposed a total communications blackout. Authorities heralded the recent restoration of limited Internet access as a step toward normalcy, but are continuing a ban on popular social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter.
Police officer Ashraf said “misuse of social media has caused widespread disinformation and fake news.” It was unclear whether authorities would clamp down on general social media users over the ban on use of social media sites.
Since the Internet ban was partially lifted on Jan. 25, some Kashmiris have shared access to banned sites through VPNs and taken to the web to denounce the government’s actions in the region.
Critics say the tight Internet restrictions are “far worse censorship than anywhere in the world” and could spearhead a new level of government control over information allowing it to further restrict freedoms in Kashmir.
“Everything is policed here. There’s no privacy in our lives,” said Ikram Ahmed, a university student. “Now we will have people in jails for mere use of social media.”
The portion of the divided Kashmir region that India controls is one of the most militarized places in the world.
Kashmiri rebels have fought for decades for its independence or unification with Pakistan, which administers the other part of Muslim-majority Kashmir.
Archrivals India and Pakistan have fought two wars over the territory, both claiming it in its entirety.