De­fence deal on cards as Malaysia tilts to­ward China

The Myanmar Times - - World -

MALAYSIA’S prime min­is­ter yes­ter­day be­gan an of­fi­cial visit to China where he will sign a “sig­nif­i­cant de­fence deal”, in a po­ten­tial strate­gic shift as his ties with the United States fray over a cor­rup­tion scan­dal.

The week-long trip by Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak marks an­other po­ten­tial blow for Wash­ing­ton’s “pivot” to­ward Asia, two weeks af­ter Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte of long­time US ally the Philip­pines vis­ited China with olive branch in hand.

Malaysia and China will be fi­nal­is­ing “the first sig­nif­i­cant de­fence deal” be­tween the two coun­tries dur­ing his visit, Mr Na­jib told Chi­nese state news agency Xin­hua.

A to­tal of 10 agree­ments span­ning busi­ness, de­fence and other spheres will be signed, Malaysia has said.

Last month in Bei­jing, Mr Duterte stunned ob­servers by an­nounc­ing his coun­try’s “sep­a­ra­tion” from long­stand­ing part­ner the United States.

Though he sub­se­quently backed off, say­ing their al­liance re­mained in­tact, the episode un­der­lined China’s in­creas­ing diplo­matic and eco­nomic grav­i­ta­tional pull at the ex­pense of the United States.

Mr Na­jib’s visit pro­vides fresh ev­i­dence, said South­east Asia pol­i­tics an­a­lyst Brid­get Welsh.

“This is the new re­gional norm. Now China is im­ple­ment­ing the power and the US is in re­treat,” she said, adding Wash­ing­ton’s Asia “pivot” was “dead in the wa­ter”.

China wel­comed Mr Na­jib, who ar­rived on Oc­to­ber 31, with a state din­ner last night in Bei­jing, fol­lowed by a meet­ing with Premier Li Ke­qiang.

Mr Na­jib will meet Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, as well as Jack Ma, founder of e-com­merce gi­ant Alibaba, later in the week.

Tak­ing of­fice in 2009, Mr Na­jib reached out to Wash­ing­ton, and re­la­tions warmed fol­low­ing decades of pe­ri­odic dis­trust.

But he has in­creas­ingly leaned to­ward China as it be­came Malaysia’s big­gest trad­ing part­ner, and espe­cially af­ter the erup­tion last year of a mas­sive cor­rup­tion scan­dal im­pli­cat­ing Mr Na­jib and a state in­vest­ment fund he founded.

Bil­lions are al­leged to have been

si­phoned from the fund, 1MDB, in a stun­ning in­ter­na­tional cam­paign of em­bez­zle­ment and money-laun­der­ing that has sparked in­ves­ti­ga­tions in sev­eral coun­tries.

Mr Na­jib’s ties with Wash­ing­ton be­came strained when the US Jus­tice Depart­ment moved in July to seize more than US$1 bil­lion in as­sets it says were pur­chased by the prime min­is­ter’s rel­a­tives and as­so­ciates us­ing stolen 1MDB money.

Jus­tice Depart­ment fil­ings said a “Malaysian Of­fi­cial 1” took part in the loot­ing.

Malaysia has since ad­mit­ted that the of­fi­cial was Mr Na­jib al­though he and 1MDB deny wrong­do­ing and have railed at for­eign forces they say con­cocted the scan­dal. –

Photo: EPA

Na­jib Razak’s ties with the US have frayed over the 1MDB scan­dal.

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