Analysts: Little impact from western countries over Malaysia's firm stance on Palestine

KUALA LUMPUR: There will be minimal impact from some countries, especially from the West, over Malaysia's firm stance on the Palestine issue, say experts.

Senior Research Fellow for Asia Middle East Centre for Research and Dialogue (AMEC) Dr Ferooze Ali Ahsad Ahmad said Malaysia's stance on the Palestine issue is unlikely to cause a significant impact due to the country's strong economic ties with China.

He said eight countries or blocs to date have listed Hamas as a terrorist organisation: the United States, the European Union (EU), the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Paraguay, Japan and Israel.

"Malaysia's largest trading partner in imports and exports is China, not the US, the UK or the EU. China does not classify Hamas as a terrorist group.

"In fact, China remains a crucial component of our economy.

"Malaysia's exports to China were about US$47.9 billion in 2021. China exported US$70.7 billion to our country the same year," he said.

Ferooze suggested that Malaysia should explore the possibility of increasing its exports to the BRICS nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, to counter any potential impact.

"We have done this before. Malaysia diverted our palm oil products from the EU to China when the EU put sanctions on us (supposedly) due to our deforestation policy," he said.

He said there was an assumption that influential actors such as the US, UK or EU, might consider introducing sanctions due to their sympathy for the situation in Israel and Palestine.

In the unlikely worst-case scenario, he said, trade sanctions or prohibitions may be imposed, such as what is happening with Iran now.

Almost all US trade with Iran is prohibited, with the exception of food, medicine and humanitarian aid.

"In such a situation, companies from Western countries may be instructed to refrain from engaging in trade with Malaysia.

"Any trade sanction will be initiated lightly, especially on non-essential items first and foremost.

"The threshold intensity for sanctions will increase over time if Malaysia chooses to ignore further pressure," he told the New Straits Times.

Ferooze said this when asked to comment on Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's recent statement that Malaysia was aware of and anticipates that there would be negative reactions from some countries in the West regarding its firm stand in advocating for the Palestinian people.

The prime minister had said that he had no choice but to raise the issue of Palestine and the ongoing atrocities committed by Israel in Gaza, even though there may be some small risks involved.

Echoing Ferooze, former Universiti Malaya head of international and strategic studies Professor Datuk Mohamad Abu Bakar said Malaysia was geographically distant from Palestine, hence the negative consequences may not affect us significantly.

"However, there are still some risks.

"Malaysia should be able to gain a better reputation in the long run, given that more countries and groups are expressing strong pro-Palestinian views and calling for a just solution to the Palestinian issue," he said.

He said Malaysia has been in the thick of the Palestinian struggle before, and this time around, the country is equally drawn into the mainstream of international politics, calling for the resolution of the conflict.

"It is both a moral imperative and a diplomatic duty for Malaysia's galvanised Asean members to take a similar stand vis-à-vis the unfolding Israel-Gaza war," he added.

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