Mahathir: Malaysia sees Turkey as alternative trade partner

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Bin Mohamad said on Friday that Turkey could be an alternative source of import for his country.

In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency in the capital Ankara during his tightly packed four-day official visit to Turkey, the veteran politician of Muslim world talked about bilateral issues along with the Rohingya crisis, the Palestinian cause and the situation of Uyghur Muslims in East Turkestan, the area otherwise known as China’s Xinjiang province.

Malaysia’s total trade volume in 2018 was around $455 billion, according to the country’s External Trade Development Corporation. The southeastern Asian nation’s export totaled around $242 billion while it’s imports was around $213 billion.

However, the latest figures show that the total trade between the two countries stood at $2.38 billion.

“We see in Turkey, a lot of potential for import of some of the things we are importing from other countries. Turkey can be an alternative source,” Mahathir said.

AA: What were the highlights of the bilateral meetings you have held during your official visit to Turkey? After your visit, what kind of developments do you expect in trade, political, and cultural ties between Turkey and Malaysia?

Mahathir Mohamad (MM): The highlight would be the decision for us to improve the relationship between Malaysia and Turkey. And to cooperate in all fields, including in the economic area in terms of defense procurement, and also exchanges of technology in various fields.

AA: In previous statements, you pointed to international economic problems and suggested that the current foreign exchange trade is manipulative. You have proposed that gold could be used to carry out imports and exports between East Asian countries. Are you pressing ahead on this proposal? Could Malaysia and Turkey use gold to carry out trade?

MM: Yes, very much. So, Malaysia is a trading nation, it depends on its exports, trade to almost 200 different countries. It is important for us that these countries remain open when there are sanctions applied or some other obstruction that affects our trade and that affects also our economic development. So, we see in Turkey, a lot of potential for import of some of the things we are importing from other countries. Turkey can be an alternative source, but beyond that, we really have not focused on trade as much as we should have. We need to identify all the products of Turkey which can be exported to Malaysia and vice versa. Malaysia also would like to export more than just palm oil to Turkey.

AA: What would be the means of trade? Turkey and Malaysia could start trading depending on gold or would it be the U.S. dollars?

MM: Currently we are using the U.S. dollar. But it may be possible for us to do barter trading or even decide to use our own currencies.

AA: Your denunciations of Israel and your speeches defending the Palestinian cause have met widespread acclaim in the Muslim world. What kind of policies do you plan to pursue on Israel’s brutal policies against Palestine?

MM: With regard to the Palestinian problem, the clear truth about it is that it has not been given enough airing either in the media or on TV. That seems to be an agreement on the part of the media not to highlight the problems of Palestine. Certainly, there is no mention of how the Palestinian land was seized from them to make the State of Israel. And subsequently, Israel acted against international law, in occupying more land in Palestine. These have not been mentioned often. The main thing that we think we should always stress is the causes of terrorism. Today, there is already a consensus almost to blame terrorism on Muslims. But the fact you said, after the seizure of Palestine, and the disregard of international law by Israel, this has led to so-called acts of terrorism. But in order to get rid of terrorism, we need to know the reason why they terrorize. In Malaysia, we planned to win the hearts and minds of people, including all terrorists in Malaysia, and the terrorism came to an end. But unless you treat the causes of terrorism, you are not going to be able to stop terrorism.

AA: In this context, what’s your idea about the “Deal of the Century” promoted by the U.S. and some Gulf countries?

MM: Yes, it is just in order to promote their own side of the problem. They want to justify whatever it is that they are doing, despite the fact that clearly it is a breach of international law. Above all, it is a disregard for democratic processes. The seizure of land from the Palestinians was not the result of referendum or getting public opinion on it. The land was just taken and given to Israel without any consideration for the thinking and feelings of the people at that time living in Palestine.

AA: How can Malaysia and Turkey cooperate to solve this Palestinian issue?

MM: One is of course to keep the issue alive. There is an attempt to just kill the issue completely as if nothing has happened. But the fact is that there is a great deal of injustice perpetrated against the Palestinians and we intend, I think both Turkey and Malaysia intend, to keep this problem alive, so that the world will appreciate the injustice that has been done to the Palestinians.

AA: As you said that we have to look through the main case of terrorism in the Israel-Palestine issue, can we say that the creation of Israel in illegal way is the main cause of terrorism?

MM: It is the main cause. But of course, it is now an established fact that there is a state of Israel, at the very least, the State of Israel should allow the previous Palestinian population to go back to reclaim their property. Or at the very least, to have two different states and to stop Israel from building settlements in the Palestinian territory. This is what we want the thing should be done. And if we know, beside this, the causes for terrorism, and we treat them, we take action to stop this injustice perpetrated on the Palestinians, I think there will be less terrorism or no terrorism all over the world.

AA: Your government is also interested in the problems of Rohingya Muslims. Malaysian state officials have likewise called for international pressure on the Myanmar administration. Moreover, Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah has made statements in Rakhine state calling for the prosecution of those who committed crimes against humanity. Could you briefly explain Malaysia’s policy on the Rohingya crisis?

MM: Malaysia generally does not wish to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. But in this case, massacre or genocide is involved and Malaysia is against genocide, and against the unfair treatment of the citizens of Myanmar, of different race. So, we need to settle this by recognizing that the Rohingya are also citizens of Myanmar. Myanmar, of course, at one time was made up of many different states. But the British decided to rule Myanmar as one state and because of that many of the tribes included in the state of Burma. But now of course, they should either be treated as nationals, or they should be given their territory to form their own state.

AA: What is your evaluation of the decisions of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the Rohingya issue?

MM: The ICJ can only function if both sides to the issue agreed to accept the findings of the court. But the ICJ, if it is making a unilateral decision, will not be respected by the parties concerned. So, we need to have the concern of the Myanmar government in order to become effective in referring to the method to the ICJ.

AA: What can be done to address the plight of the Uighurs in East Turkestan?

MM: We should tell China that please treat these people as citizens. The fact that they have a different religion should not influence the treatment towards them. Malaysia, for example, is a multi-religious country, but all religions are treated on the same basis. However, when there is violence, of course, you’re playing into the hands of the Chinese, they will claim that it is because of the violence that they are treating these people different. So, we always advocate the settlement of conflicts through negotiation, arbitration or court of law. But when you resort to violence, then it’s very difficult to find a good conclusion because there has been no case where violence has achieved the objective.

AA: As you know, Turkey has been fighting the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) both inside and outside the country. In this context, especially in closing FETO-linked schools, Malaysia has given great support to Turkey. In 2017, several FETO members were arrested and extradited to Turkey. Will Malaysia’s support for Turkey’s fight against FETO continue during your premiership?

MM: Malaysia doesn’t support insurrection in any country. It is our policy not to be used as a base for action taken against other countries. It is for that reason that when we find that there are some attempts to make use of Malaysia as a base for dissent against the Turkish government, we have taken actions to close these schools.

AA: What are the achievements in your second tenure after forming government in May last year?

MM: We were left with a lot of problem among which was a financial problem because the previous government borrowed huge sums of money. And we need to pay back the loans that was taken by the previous government. And we don’t know where the money is kept in [by the previous government]. You know, they are investment in some business enterprises that we can get by the money, but the money has disappeared. And we believe that they are hiding the money outside, [and] the financial pressure on the present government is very great. And it is hampering our return to a good economic management. Beyond that, of course, there are political attempts, though they are not very successful, to undermine the present government, but of course they will retard the course of the actions taken to recover.

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