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Malaysia Plans Its Own ‘Orangutan Diplomacy,’ Inspired by China’s ‘Panda Diplomacy’

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Malaysia plans to gift orangutans to its major buyers of palm oil, a commodity long blamed for destroying habitats of the endangered apes.

The world’s second-biggest palm grower is taking inspiration from China’s “Panda Diplomacy,” and is considering to gift the orange-haired mammals to some of its trading partners, including the European Union, as part of the country’s “strategic diplomatic move.”

Read More: How Pandas Are Becoming a Tool of Chinese Diplomacy

“This will be a manifestation of how Malaysia preserves wildlife and ensures sustainability of our forests, especially within the palm oil plantation landscape,” Johari Abdul Ghani, the Southeast Asian nation’s plantations and commodities minister, said in a post on X. The move will prove to the world that Malaysia is committed to biodiversity conservation, he said.

The idea follows accusations and restrictions by some palm oil importers, such as Europe, that its cultivation destroys rainforests, drives endangered animals toward extinction, and is linked to labor abuse. Environmental groups have stepped up scrutiny of the crop, while the EU is introducing rules to stop products that cause deforestation from being sold in shops.

“Malaysia must not take a defensive stance on palm oil,” Johari said. “Instead, we have to show the world that Malaysia is a producer of sustainable palm oil and is committed to safeguard forests as well as environmental sustainability.”

Indonesia and Malaysia, the world’s top palm oil producers that collectively account for about 85% of global output, have pledged to work together to counter “anti-palm oil campaigns” launched by some western countries. Palm oil is a versatile ingredient found in products such as pizza, instant noodles, and shampoo.

Orangutans are found in the rainforests of the Southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Sumatra, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The great apes are critically endangered — with their population estimated at about 120,000 — and threatened by rapid deforestation mainly due to palm oil and other agriculture plantations, the organization said.

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