PRIME Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad warned today that the Asean regional bloc could hit back against any punitive measures regarding the US-China trade war.

“We will do exactly what (US President Donald) Trump does,” he told a business forum ahead of the 35th Asean Leaders’ Summit opening, calling the US leader “not a very nice man”.

“If you go alone, you will be bullied. We don’t want to go into a trade war but sometimes, when they do things that are not nice to us, we have to be unnice to them,” he said in Bangkok today.

The 10-member bloc is eyeing a breakthrough in talks over the world’s largest trade deal to help throw off the torpor that has gripped the global economy since the start of the US-China tariff war.

The annual summit opened with leaders hoping to secure a China-backed free trade pact knitting together half of the world’s population and around 40% of its commerce.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) – a deal spanning India to New Zealand and wrangled over for several years – is now seen as an urgent counterpoint to US protectionism.

Washington’s trade rumble with Beijing has weighed on markets, with the IMF warning the spat could cut global growth to the lowest pace in more than a decade.

Meanwhile, Trump’s protectionist rhetoric has spooked some Asean nations who fear their economies could fall under his cross hairs.

Trump has repeatedly warned of further intervention to protect American business, and several Asian nations are waiting to find out if the US will put them on a watch list of “currency manipulators”.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, meanwhile, echoed the theme of regional cooperation on the RCEP deal, while Philippines’ trade secretary Ramon Lopez said he hoped to have a “very positive report (on RCEP) come Monday” when the summit ends.

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad with his Thai counterpart Prayut Chan-o-cha at the 35th Asean Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, today. – EPA pic, November 2, 2019.
Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad with his Thai counterpart Prayut Chan-o-cha at the 35th Asean Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, today. – EPA pic, November 2, 2019.

Later, Dr Mahathir met Chan-o-cha on the sidelines of the summit, Bernama reported.

In the 45-minute meeting, both leaders discussed various issues of mutual interests, including the need to strengthen their bilateral economic partnership.

As its closest neighbour, Thailand also expressed its support for Malaysia’s palm oil industry.

Prayuth also expressed hope that Malaysia would, in return, support its rubber industry.

Tensions at sea 

India, whose Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also in Thailand, is the greatest obstacle to RCEP in its current form.

New Delhi fears opening key industries, such as metals, textiles and dairy, to cheaper Chinese importers.

Indian intransigence has cast the deal – looping in the 10 Southeast Asian economies along with Japan, India, China, New Zealand and Australia – into doubt.

“We want them (India) to be in. We want to have them… they are a big economy,” Lopez told reporters.

Chinese premier Li Keqiang will attend the three-day meet, where simmering tensions in the South China Sea will also lead the agenda.

China supports the RCEP, a deal seen as a way for Beijing to assert its trade dominance in its Asian backyard after the US pullout of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in 2017.

The Asean summit follows a push by Washington and Beijing for a partial agreement to squash some of tit-for-tat tariffs on billions of dollars worth of goods that have rattled both economies.

But Washington has pared back its delegation to Bangkok this year.

In what is being read by some as a snub to Asean, the US is sending national security adviser Robert O’Brien and commerce chief Wilbur Ross.

US Vice-President Mike Pence attended last year’s Asean summit in Singapore, and President Donald Trump was at the 2017 meeting in the Philippines.

A senior White House official refuted claims of a snub to the Southeast Asian bloc.

Both Trump and Pence are unavailable because they will be “very engaged in campaigning” for a string of governors’ races, the official told reporters.

Trump instead trusts O’Brien “to go out and take care of big problems and small problems”, the official added.


Malaysia, under Pakatan, can become ‘new tiger’ of Asia, says Muhyiddin

MALAYSIA will be developed until it becomes the “new tiger” of Asia if the people continue to back Pakatan Harapan as the government, said Muhyiddin Yassin.

The PH deputy president said under the current administration, the country can become a developed nation.

“If we are given support again in Tanjung Piai, and if PH continues to be in power, Insyaallah, we will be able to develop the country further. Not only that, we will put Malaysia ahead as one of the developed nations in Asia.

“We can be the ‘new tiger’, capable of roaring loudly and warning everyone of our strength,” he said when campaigning for PH’s Tg Piai by-election candidate, in Kg Melayu Raya, Pekan Nenas, today.

Muhyiddin, who is also Bersatu president, said it will take some time to realise the vision as PH has to deal with many problems left behind by the previous government.

Nevertheless, he said, the ruling pact is committed to resolving all such issues.

“I’m in the government. Every week, we have a cabinet meeting to discuss ways to resolve the country’s problems – financial issues, debts, damages, the Lembaga Tabung Haji scandal, the Felda scandal… These are our main concerns, but everything else is under control.”

He said he foresees a great challenge for PH in the November 16 Tg Piai contest.

“Many issues will be raised to shake voters’ confidence in the government. So, PH needs to come up with a really effective move to ensure victory.”

PH’s Karmaine Sardini and Barisan Nasional’s Wee Jeck Seng are the main contenders in the six-way battle.

The other candidates are Wendy Subramaniam of Gerakan, Berjasa’s Badhrulhisham Abdul Aziz, and independents Ang Chuan Lock and Faridah Aryani Abdul Ghaffar.

The by-election was called following the death of MP Md Farid Md Rafik, of Bersatu, on September 21.

– Bernama