Malaysian queen’s food gift spices up soured relations with Singapore

Malaysia’s new King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah and Queen Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah attend a welcoming ceremony at the Parliament House in Kuala Lumpur. (Reuters)
Updated 29 October 2019

Malaysian queen’s food gift spices up soured relations with Singapore

  • Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah has taken bilateral ties with the island city state to a tasty new level by cooking sambal (spicy Malaysian chili sauce) for its PM Lee Hsien Loong
  • The food exchange is part of a long-standing tradition between the two countries and has been trending on social media after the queen shared a Twitter message about it

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s queen has cooked up the perfect recipe to spice up soured relations with Singapore – by making a popular dish for its premier.

Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah has taken bilateral ties with the island city state to a tasty new level by cooking sambal (spicy Malaysian chili sauce) for its Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The food exchange is part of a long-standing tradition between the two countries and has been trending on social media after the queen shared a Twitter message about it on Friday.

“Thank you for your warmth and kindness, sending my father (and me) your special sambal belacan all these years! I hope you enjoy making it as much as we enjoy eating it!” Lee tweeted in response on Tuesday.

The custom dates back almost a decade when sambal was cooked for Lee’s father and former premier, Lee Kuan Yew.

Sambal belacan is a popular southeast Asian mix of chili and shrimp paste. It is widely used in Asian cooking and is a favorite condiment with rice dishes.

“Through the years … Lee Kuan Yew and I had a sambal belacan friendship,” tweeted the queen, wife of Malaysia’s current head of state.

She added that a minister from Singapore had informed her that her sambal condiments were a hit among Singaporean leaders.

“My sambal would be served at lunch after their weekly Cabinet meeting ... the way to a man’s heart is through the stomach,” she added in her tweet.

Located along the southern part of the Malaysian peninsular and separated by a narrow strait, Singapore shares similar history, language and culture with Malaysia, despite the political “sibling rivalry” between the two nations.

The Malaysian royal’s sambal tweets have come as a welcome diplomatic gesture to help calm ongoing tensions between the countries.

The queen also revealed that her famous sambal belacan had become a staple gift to other countries.

Since taking over the throne as queen last year, she has enjoyed massive popularity and is a beloved figurehead among Malaysians.

Malaysia has a constitutional monarchy and every five years a king is selected from the nine kings representing different states, through a unique rotational system.

Unlike most royal queens who prefer to remain discreet on social media, she has been active and vocal on Twitter under the handle @cheminahsayang, sharing posts from current issues to personal stories with a touch of humor.

“Sambal condiments as relationship sweetener? I am also a belacan supplier to Brunei and other states and countries,” tweeted the queen. “My cooks referred to me as a global sambal producer. The king has used the sambal belacan as gifts (for global leaders) whenever he goes overseas attending meetings.”


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.