India has breached a key Asean norm and triggering a firestorm to engulf it

  • Letters
  • Tuesday, 22 Oct 2019

INDIA'S Prime Minister Narendra Modi ought to be congratulated for handsomely winning the May 2018 re-election campaign – but the plaudits, for now, stop there.

The media that supports him, such as the Magna Indica programme on the NewsX channel, has released a nearly five-minute long clip that India must support any Hindus in Malaysia that are against the office of Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

The reasons – indeed, the diatribes offered – include punishing Malaysia for supporting Pakistan and not chastising Islamabad for its support of ostensible terrorist movements against India.

India, therefore, which is experiencing a trade deficit of merely US$5bil (RM20.92bil) with Malaysia, should stop buying palm oil from Malaysia.

Instead, all the palm oil needed by India for the production of soap, vegetarian oil or potentially bio-fuel, should be imported from Indonesia.

This is where Modi's policy goes wrong and has been hijacked by incendiary anchormen such as those from Magna Indica.

First and foremost, Magna Indica affirmed that there is a trade war between the US and China – which judging from the presenter's tone of language – can deeply affect India too.

This would suggest that all trade wars, or sheer weaponisation of trade issues, are bad. They raise tariff and non-tariff barriers, as well as they trigger a dyadic trade relationship that is toxic on the rest of the global value chain, with India included. If that is an economic fact, why should India emulate the example of Washington DC and Beijing?

Secondly, perhaps most importantly above all else – there is actually an unsaid yet practical principle in Asean – that any countries that want to be a part of the thriving region of 680 million people cannot throw their support to any opposition in the region.

Modi has a "Southerly Policy" to Asean since 2015, and is a member of the East Asian Summit, a dialogue partner of Asean.

India is destroying a key principle of its own diplomatic engagement. Not only will the whole of Asean oppose it but the rest of the East Asian region will see India's behaviour as the beginning of the use of "hatchet diplomacy".

Thirdly, the conflict between India and Pakistan is not a mere conventional weapons stand off but a nuclear eye-to-eye stand off.

In such a conflict, the likes of Malaysia are needed as a friendly third party to reduce the tension of the two, and not to ratchet up the rivalry.

Insisting that Putrajaya must side with New Delhi at all cost suggests a bigger economic juggernaut imposing a zero-sum economic and diplomatic game on not just Malaysia, but ultimately the whole region.

Besides, much of Indonesia's palm oil is owned and sold by the likes of Malaysian companies such as IOI and Genting.

Will India, to satisfy its egoistical objectives, selectively buy Indonesian palm oil without Malaysian equity and partnership?

The current prices of palm oil are influenced by the consumption patterns of India and China. Indonesia and Malaysia – which together sell 90% of the world's palm oil – have an understanding not to be pressured by other countries.

Instead it is Indonesia and Malaysia that hold the upper hand as Jakarta and Putrajaya are not necessarily agreeable to New Delhi's strong-arm tactics.

An Indian foreign policy, that seeks to be pro-Asean and pro East Asia – both of which India is intimately involved in – cannot begin by targeting any one country in the region on sheer political discrimination.

In fact, this is against the practice of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which Malaysia is liable to seek a legal redress.

An eye for an eye makes the world go blind. Amidst it's Hindu nationalism, New Delhi has become blinded by it's own electoral victory – which if not careful can end up in a nuclear flash with Pakistan too, which is what Dr Mahathir, Malaysia and the rest of the world are trying to pre-empt.

Dr Rais Hussin is Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia strategist. The views expressed here are entirely the writer's own

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