0833 GMT December 06, 2022
Mahathir told business leaders attending meetings of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations that they should unite in fighting back if countries try to shut them out of their markets, AP reported.
The image of unity ASEAN strives to project has been clouded by wrangling over a long-delayed agreement on a free trade bloc. The 10-nation association is also divided over handling of territorial disputes with China.
But the trade war between Beijing and Washington and US President Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ stance have many countries sharing a common goal of protecting their access to wealthy Western markets.
“ASEAN is quite a big market for the whole world. We don’t want to go into a trade war,” Mahathir said. He described campaigns against exports of palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia over concerns regarding labor and environmental issues as ‘sabotage’.
“If they do things that are not nice to us, we have to be not nice to them,” he said. “If you cut back some imports of palm oil from Malaysia, we can cut back our imports from them.
“We should have one voice,” he said. “If you go it alone, you will be bullied.”
Trump opted not to attend the ASEAN and other regional meetings outside Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, that began Saturday and run through Monday. Many other regional leaders are attending, including Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are said to be busy with campaigning on behalf of fellow Republicans.
Mahathir, who is 94 and known for not mincing his words, had some harsh things to say about the US leader and his policies, describing Trump as ‘not a very nice man’.
Arin Jira, who chaired the meeting as head of ASEAN’s Business Advisory Council, said the gathering should call for ‘world economic peace’ against trade wars that are causing havoc.
“The result of war is only destruction,” he said.