Malaysia ’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad may have spent much of 2019 trying to keep a lid on domestic political battles, but as the year comes to an end his ruling coalition is finding itself caught up in diplomatic skirmishes as well. At the centre of Pakatan Harapan’s current foreign policy predicament is the fallout following a summit of Islamic nations it hosted earlier in December outside the auspices of the Saudi Arabia -dominated Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Riyadh saw the Kuala Lumpur Summit as an affront to its de facto leadership of the Sunni Muslim world, especially since the leaders of its three top regional rivals – Qatar , Turkey and Iran – were invited to the forum and given the honour of delivering keynote speeches. Despite receiving invitations, the Saudis – along with allies such as the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain – stayed away from the summit. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, who hatched the idea for the forum with Mahathir last year, pulled out at the last minute after reportedly coming under pressure from the Saudis . While the tensions may have cooled somewhat, a new controversy emerged last week after Morocco voiced displeasure over the participation in the forum of two groups it deems as having jihadist links. Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah on Saturday said he told his Moroccan counterpart Nasser Bourita in a telephone conversation that the groups’ participation did “not infer recognition by the Malaysian government”. Rounding off the list of countries bristling at Malaysia over the summit is India , which last week summoned the Southeast Asian country’s charges d’affaires in New Delhi over Mahathir’s comments on Prime Minister Narendra Modi ’s controversial new citizenship law. India’s citizenship law protests deepen Hindu America’s Modi divide On the sidelines of the event, the 94-year-old leader echoed Modi’s rivals in claiming that the Citizenship Amendment Act discriminates against India’s 200 million Muslims. On this, too, Saifuddin brushed off concerns, saying he viewed India’s summoning of the Malaysian diplomat as “normal when a country is dissatisfied or when there is an event or statement that requires further clarification”. “Everything remains good between both countries and there are no issues about strained ties or problems arising from this,” he told local media. Outside government, some observers of Malaysian foreign policy are not as sanguine about the number of countries currently at odds with Kuala Lumpur. Also of concern are domestic divisions over the diplomatic path the country is taking – one area where officials have traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support. Ethnic Indian MPs from both sides of the political divide, for instance, have publicly chided Mahathir for his criticism of India’s citizenship law as well as for his earlier rebuke of New Delhi for revoking the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir , a Muslim-dominated region. In a blog post, former career diplomat Dennis Ignatius said “rarely has there been such controversy over foreign policy issues as we are now seeing”. Ignatius, who served as Malaysia’s envoy to Chile, Argentina and Canada , wrote that the current controversies, including the divide at home on foreign policy, “ought to serve as an urgent wake up call to policymakers”. Not all of Malaysia’s diplomatic efforts in 2019 were as divisive, however. What will Beijing do now Malaysia has discovered art of the deal in South China Sea? In a review of the country’s foreign policy “hits and misses” for the year, Shahriman Lockman, foreign policy analyst and researcher at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies, said one of two key diplomatic wins for the administration was its success in bringing ties with China back “to an even keel” after a period of uncertainty. Pakatan Harapan this year revived two China-backed projects – the East Coast Rail Link and the Bandar Malaysia development – that it had put on ice soon after coming to power in May 2018 amid concerns the previous Barisan Nasional government had agreed to inflated price tags. In the case of the East Coast Rail Link, Mahathir’s administration managed to reduce the cost by one-third to about US$11 billion following lengthy renegotiations with the state-backed China Communication Construction Company. Bandar Malaysia, envisioned as a major transport hub at the site of a former airbase near Kuala Lumpur, was also revived with improved terms following similar talks with the developer, a joint venture involving China Railway Engineering Corporation. Concerns had earlier been raised about the project’s links to the scandal-haunted 1MDB state investment fund . In a radio interview, Shahriman said that while Malaysia continues to have other “very, very serious” disagreements with China on issues like the South China Sea and the plight of Uygur Muslims in Xinjiang , “the government has reassured the Chinese that we want to have a strong relationship with you despite of all our problems”. He identified the second diplomatic win as the closer ties Malaysia forged with Japan this year, with Mahathir visiting the East Asian country six times over the last 19 months. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ’s government in March guaranteed a 200 billion yen (US$1.83 billion) bond issuance for Malaysia, a development Shahriman said “could never have happened if we didn’t have a strong relationship with Japan”. Shahriman described the current tensions with India as a low point for Malaysian diplomacy. ‘Muslims caused fear of Islam’: says Mahathir at Kuala Lumpur Summit In 2020, all eyes will be on Malaysia’s chairing of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation intergovernmental forum – a role it has not held since 1998, when Mahathir was serving his first, 22-year stint as prime minister. Also likely to be in focus will be its ties with neighbouring Singapore . The two countries ushered in an entente of sorts earlier this year, after bickering in the early months of Mahathir’s administration over a range of issues including the future of a high-speed rail deal that the Malaysian leader unilaterally suspended along with the Chinese projects. Malaysia must decide whether it wants to proceed with the high-speed rail link, and another bilateral rail project – a metro system linking its southern city of Johor Bahru with the Lion City – by the second quarter of this year, or face the prospect of paying hefty termination fees.