Culture History International Politics

The 4+1 times we pissed off other nations in light of Mahathir’s tweets

[UPDATE 1/10/2019]: Okay so, we first published this article back in Sept 2018, when Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah tweeted out some controversial views, leading to some outrage online. Well recently, our own Prime Minister Mahathir’s Twitter account would do the same thing, tweeting out a statement from his UN speech which addressed the status of the Indian state Jammu and Kashmir. This also led to some backlash on social media, which you can read more about it in our +1 entry below.


It’s been one heck of a week in terms of news, with headlines about Najib’s new charges, the Port Dickson by-election and UMNO members leaving the party faster than mat rempits on an empty highway dominating newsfeeds everywhere. However, one piece of news you may have missed is Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah being on the end of some severe backlash on Twitter due to a controversial now-deleted tweet:


Basically, as he is the Foreign Minister, you’d expect him to visit other nations, but his tweet references his dislike of two of the countries he visited – one due to religious reasons and the other due to national matters. Saifuddin however didn’t say which two countries he doesn’t like laa.

Saiifuddin Abdullah. Image from RoketKini

Saiifuddin Abdullah. Image from RoketKini

You could probably understand why that tweet was controversial, with a number of people complaining about it, including Opposition MP Khairy Jamaluddin who chided Saifuddin, saying that the Foreign Minister, as the country’s top diplomat, should behave like one. Ouch. The war of words continued over on Twitter, with more and more people criticising Saifuddin’s tweet. It probably didn’t help that Saifuddin later tweeted the complaints from UMNO members were ridicules and not constructive criticism.

The other countries haven’t made any noise about Saifuddin’s comments for now (whew), but it did get us thinking tho: what other times have we made a mess on the world stage? What other times have we been involved in a diplomatic disaster leading to bad relationships with other countries?

Well, we might as well start with a very recent one you might still remember…


1. When Malaysia was the scene of a North Korean assassination

Okay so the first thing we should probably clear up here is that Malaysia technically didn’t cause this. In case you have no idea what we’re on about, here’s a quick recap: On 13 February 2017, Kim Jong Nam – the older half brother of North Korean dear leader Kim Jong Un – was attacked by two women with VX nerve agent, a banned chemical weapon, in KLIA. He would later die from the attack.

Kim Jong Nam on the left, and Supreme™ Leader Kim Jong Un on the right. Image from Time

Kim Jong Nam on the left, and Supreme™ Leader Kim Jong Un on the right. Image from Time

We won’t be talking about the attack or the trial of the two women tho. Instead, we’ll take a look at how this incident jeopardised our international relationship with North Korea.

See, prior to this attack, Malaysia was known as one of the few countries that had a pretty good relationship with North Korea. In fact, just days before the assassination of Kim Jong Nam at KLIA, North Korea and Malaysia signed a memorandum of understanding that was supposed to improve the bilateral relations between the two nations in terms of cultural and arts-related issues. We were also supposed to increase the amount of trade done between us too on top of the (formerly) visa free entry to North Korea for Malaysians.

But following the attack, the relationship began to implode on nuclear proportions. Basically, North Korea wanted the body of Kim back, but we refused. Their ambassador then said we were siding with their enemies over the issue, and that we were, uh, violating human rights by conducting an autopsy on Kim. Both countries then called back their ambassadors, followed by North Korea banning Malaysians in NK from leaving, and Malaysia doing the same to North Koreans here.



Thankfully, after the initial bickering between the two nations, Kim’s remains were finally sent back to North Korea with also meant Malaysians there were able to leave the hermit kingdom. Furthermore, with the new govt in place, Mahathir looks set to rebuild our relationship with North Korea. He has said he will reopen the Malaysian embassy there, as it not been staffed since April of last year.

Anyway, just like a North Korean missile during testing, let’s go down under for awhile for our next entry…


2. When a Malaysian diplomat got caught poopoo-ing outside someone’s house

Mohammed Rizalman bin Ismail was a diplomat working at the Malaysian High Commission in Wellington, New Zealand when he was arrested on the 9th of May 2014. He was found to have been following a 21 year old woman to her home and apparently tried to rape her.

Following his arrest, Rizalman managed to flee New Zealand despite the charges against him as he claimed diplomatic immunity. However, news of Rizalman’s arrest was made public in July 2014 and he was eventually sent back to New Zealand to face trial, and that’s where it got even more embarrassing for Malaysia.

Muhammed Rizalman. Image from Otago Daily Times

Muhammed Rizalman. Image from Otago Daily Times

Here’s a quick rundown of the details that was made public during Rizalman’s trial:

  • He took a dump in her lawn – he claims it was an emergency poopoo, but prosecutors argued it was some sort of witchcraft ritual to cast a love spell on the victim.
  • He was found in the victim’s house naked from the waist down, but said he had no sexual motive – he wanted to clean himself after the ’emergency poopoo’.
  • He argued that he was invited to the victim’s house, but got kicked out because he ate all her food.
  • He then changed his story, saying he just wanted to be friends with her.
  • He also admitted to believing in black magic, using legal highs and going to strip clubs for the ‘music’.

Weird right? And not only did he mess up, but so did the officials of both countries. Turns out, he wasn’t supposed to have been able to flee New Zealand, as the NZ govt told Malaysia to cancel his diplomatic immunity. Somehow, the messages didn’t get across properly, and Malaysia thought Rizalman was supposed to go back home. In any case, he eventually served a nine month detention in Wellington before going home to Malaysia.


3. When we hanged two Australians and pissed off the Aussie govt for years (and inspired a movie)

On the 9th of November 1983, two Australians – Kevin Barlow and Geoffrey Chambers – were arrested at the Penang Airport with over 400g of heroin. If you didn’t know it by now, drug trafficking is a pretty serious crime here laa, with the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 stating that anyone found with at least 15g of heroin will be sentenced to death.

Barlow and Chambers. Image from Herald Sun

Barlow and Chambers. Image from Herald Sun

Thus began a significant trial and media frenzy in both Australia and Malaysia. There was also a superstar lawyer involved – Karpal Singh, who was defending Kevin Barlow. However, even he failed to save the pair, and they were sentenced to death. The media in Australia went into overdrive, while prominent leaders such as the Australian PM Bob Hawke and West Australia leader Brian Burke made a plea to Malaysia, with Hawke calling the decision to hang them barbaric.

The US gomen removed this Malaysian Kopi Jantan from their market. But why?

Mahathir however ignored them, and when told no one should take another’s life, responded with “you should tell that to the drug traffickers”. This ultimately began a pretty tense era between Malaysia and Australia, with Australia disappointed over Malaysia’s decision to go thru with the execution and Malaysia unhappy with Bob Hawke calling Malaysia ‘barbaric’. 

Incidentally, the Barlow and Chambers execution also spawned a movie called ‘Dadah is Death’ depicting the incident, and believe it or not stars people such as Hugo Weaving and Sarah Jessica Parker. You can read more about that and the case itself over on our sister site Soscili.

Dadah is Death VHS cover. If you dunno what VHS is, you're too young. Image from PicClick

Dadah is Death VHS cover. If you dunno what VHS is, you’re too young. Image from PicClick


4. When we became Malaysia and pissed off the Indonesian president

So in case you haven’t noticed yet, all of the above diplomatic mess ups didn’t involve us going into war with another country. However, back in the 60s, that almost happened when we entered the Konfrontasi period with Indonesia.

When Tunku Abdul Rahman unified Malaya with Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore (for awhile), Indonesian President Soekarno wasn’t happy at all. He condemned the new Malaysia and there were protests from both sides about it. Soekarno then called on Indonesians to ‘ganyang Malaysia’ or crush Malaysia, which uh, kinda self explanatory laa yeah.

President Soekarno. Image from AkuPaham

President Soekarno. Image from AkuPaham

Now because there was no formal declaration of war, it was never, um, a war. However, there were numerous attacks on Malaysia by Indonesia during the 60s. Malaysia however had some pretty powerful friends in Britain, Australia and New Zealand, who helped fight off the Indonesian guerrilla attacks. Eventually, with Suharto in charge after Soekarno, our relationship got better – for awhile anyway.

Over the years, we’ve come to have a love hate relationship with Indonesia. This includes (verbally) fighting over various areas in the sea, a Discovery Channel ad accidentally featuring Indonesian culture while promoting Malaysia and the Malaysian embassy in Jakarta having poopoo thrown into it. You can read more about these incidents here.

Anyways, in the end, it’s probably a good idea to remember that….


Alone we are weak strong, but together we are stronger

In a time where more and more politicians seek to exploit differences and divide people more, we should perhaps take a look at our own country and apply it to our world view. Many times, when people look to cite an example of a successful multicultural and plural society, they tend to use Malaysia as a prime example. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz for instance once said Malaysia “has much to teach the world, both about economics, and about how to construct a vibrant multiracial, multi-ethnic, multicultural society.”

When Malaysians try to explain how we coexist

When Malaysians try to explain how we coexist

We should perhaps then use this to our advantage and attempt to be more united with the rest of the world rather than stay away from it and reject other countries outright. North Korea does the latter and we all know how well that’s gone for them. For all we know, with a new Malaysia in place, working together with the rest of the world could see us become better than ever.



[BONUS ENTRY] Mahathir apparently starts a #BoycottMalaysia trend on Twitter

So uh, Tun M’s speech at the UN was live-tweeted out. And he made a comment in that speech about the situation of the Rohingya people in Myanmar led to world leaders no longer caring about the UN’s role in international disputes. In an attempt to back up that argument, he brought up the case of the Indian state Jammu and Kashmir which is part of a dispute between India and Pakistan over who actually owns the territory. He added that despite UN intervention and resolutions, no peaceful outcome has yet been achieved.

His comments have not been well received over in India to say the least, with many on social media voicing their disagreement with Mahathir’s views. Many of them have even started a trend on Twitter called #BoycottMalaysia, with threats to stop visiting Malaysia and for India to stop trading with us. See below for some examples:

Sadly, many Malaysians are also firing back in less than hospitable ways:

We’ll address the whole Kashmir thing in another article of ours, but as for the sake of clarity, Malaysia doesn’t actually take a side in the Indian-Pakistan dispute. In fact, just a few months ago, the Prime Minister’s Office released a statement about our stance on the issue, saying:

“Malaysia is concerned over the recent developments in Jammu and Kashmir, in particular, the repeated escalation of tension in the region.

As a close partner to both India and Pakistan, Malaysia places high hopes that the two neighbours will exercise utmost restraint to prevent further escalation that could be detrimental to the peace, stability and prosperity in the region.

Malaysia always believes that dialogues and consultations are the best routes to a peaceful and amicable solution over this long-standing issue,” – Prime Minister’s Office, August 2019

In the meantime tho, stay civil guys.

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