Defence deal on cards as Malaysia tilts toward China
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. –
Najib Razak’s ties with the US have frayed over the 1MDB scandal.