The foreign office has come under pressure to challenge Malaysian leaders over allegations of antisemitism stalking the country’s prime minister amid trade talks.
The foreign secretary Dominic Raab met the Malaysian prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad on Tuesday during a trip to four countries in the region.
Raab also met his Malaysian counterpart Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah and the country’s energy minister Yeo Bee Yin in a bid to foster stronger economic ties in the wake of last month’s exit from the European Union.
Foreign Secretary @DominicRaab then called on PM @chedetofficial and spoke on topics eg strengthening #modern partnership in #science & #tech, UK’s support to #Malaysia’s continuous #reforms & joint efforts in tackling #ClimateChange including Malaysia’s participation in #COP26. pic.twitter.com/r2KLizux9X
— UK in Malaysia???????? (@UKinMalaysia) February 11, 2020
The foreign secretary’s trip to Malaysia drew a reaction from the Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl, who cited Mohamad’s previous “use of hateful tropes.”
“We have repeatedly raised concerns about Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s antisemitic comments and his use of hateful tropes, which let down the people of Malaysia,” she said on Tuesday.
“At our request, the foreign office has expressed concerns about this in Kuala Lumpur in the past and we hope the foreign secretary has made these points again on this visit and will continue to do so in future engagements with the country,” she added.
The Malaysian prime minister was previously condemned by Jewish groups – including the Anti-Defamation League – over public remarks. He described Jews as “hook nosed” and pinned the blame for conflicts in the middle-east on Israel’s creation, the news wire Reuters reported in October 2018.
A spokesperson for the foreign office said on Tuesday afternoon: “We strongly condemn Dr Mahathir’s previous antisemitic statements, and raised this issue with his Government at the time.”
Speaking ahead of the trip, Raab said: “The region is also crucial to tackling climate change, so we’re looking forward to taking our relations to the next level.”
Bilateral trade between the UK and Malaysia is worth £5 billion each year, according to the foreign office.