Malaysian government defends presence of companies that supply weapons to Israel at defense show

People gather around the booth of Colt, an American firearm manufacturer, on display at the Defense Services Asia (DSA) exhibition in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Tuesday, May 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Syawalludin Zain)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia will not interfere in business relations between arms manufacturers and other countries, its defense minister said Tuesday, after protesters demanded that the government expel companies that supply weapons to Israel from an international exhibition.

More than 1,300 companies from 60 nations are participating in Defense Services Asia and the concurrent National Security Asia exhibitions that started Monday. The events are hosted and co-organized by Malaysia’s Defense Ministry and Home Affairs Ministry.

The Solidarity for Palestinian coalition held a brief rally outside the exhibition center on Tuesday to protest the presence of U.S. weapons maker Lockheed Martin, European missile manufacturer MBDA and others that provide arms to Israel. The coalition accused the manufacturers of being complicit in Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

They said the companies’ presence was inconsistent with the Malaysian government’s support of Palestinian statehood and insensitive to the many Malaysians who oppose Israel’s actions in the Palestinian territories. Muslims account for two-thirds of Malaysia’s 34 million people.

“We urge the Malaysian government to take a firm and consistent stand. Do not allow these murderous arm dealers to participate and prevent their war mongering,” coalition spokesperson Tian Chua said.

Defense Minister Khaled Nordin said Malaysia opposes all forms of injustice against the Palestinian people but is also a “free trade country.” He said the exhibition is a space for the defense industry to display its latest technology and help countries strengthen their defense preparedness.

“This exhibition does not favor or give advantage to any particular country or company,” Khaled said in a statement. “The relationship of some global defense companies with certain countries is a business matter that Malaysia will not interfere with.”

He noted that many Islamic countries are participating in the exhibition, including Turkey, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran and Pakistan.

Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has also called for the arms suppliers to be expelled from the country.