September 26, 2012
Ties with US not so easily frayed
By Santha Oorjitham | firstname.lastname@example.org
SOON after the Innocence of Muslims trailer was released on YouTube and United States Ambassador Christopher Stephens and three of his staff were killed after a September 11 attack on their mission in Benghazi, Libya, Malaysia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman (left) issued two statements.
In his September 14 statements, Anifah said Malaysia was “deeply concerned and saddened” about the deaths of the US consulate employees and “vehemently condemns any act of assassination, in this instance, the assassination of a diplomatic representative of a sovereign nation, who is a protected person under international law”.
In the other, he “strongly condemned” the “anti-Islamic video which is at the centre of violent anti-American protests in Egypt and Libya” that caused the “tragic deaths”.
And this week, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak urged Muslims to remain peaceful and not resort to violence as a means of showing dissatisfaction. “Now, more than ever, we should work together for greater respect, tolerance and understanding, so we may live in peace and harmony,” he stressed.
Malaysia has done the right thing in condemning both the video and the violence, says Dato’ Deva Mohd Ridzam, the country’s former ambassador to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg and Cambodia. “It’s the way a good friend should behave.”
Malaysia’s response to the inflammatory clip and the violent reactions it triggered is a reflection of both its improving bilateral ties with the US and the growing role it hopes to play through the Global Movement of the Moderates (GMM), which Najib introduced in 2010.
At a ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland honouring the four American consulate employees killed in the attacks in Benghazi, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described Innocence of Muslims as an “awful Internet video that we had nothing to do with”.
With its constitutional provisions for freedom of speech and expression, “the US government can’t micro-manage every activity undertaken by Americans as individuals or as a group. It is difficult for the US government to interfere as such official interference could be interpreted as a violation of civil liberties”, says Dr K.S. Nathan, director of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Institute of Malaysian and International Studies.
But he doesn’t expect this episode to destabilise the diplomatic relationship: “Both countries are mature, our relationship has a steady foundation and our priorities are quite in alignment when it comes to dealing with extremism, and also in jointly addressing the current challenges of development and globalisation.”
The US-Malaysia relationship has improved since Najib took over on April 3, 2009 and the relationship between him and US President Barack Obama is strong, says Nathan. And, he adds, “The institutionalisation of the relationship is something no leader on either side would want to destabilise because it is in neither party’s interest.”
The ties serve “America’s political, security and economic interests in ensuring a region that is stable through the framework of ASEAN, which the US strongly supports and in which Malaysia has an important role.”
Last November, Clinton wrote in Foreign Policy that over the next decade, America plans to “lock in a substantially increased investment — diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise — in the Asia-Pacific region.”
For Malaysia, “Bilateral relations with the US are top priority”, Nathan says. “We believe in an economic balance of power in the region and the US is an important player that can contribute to regional stability, along with other major external powers.”
America was the top investor in Malaysia last year and ranks as our fourth largest trade partner.
”High-level bilateral contacts between the US and Malaysia are at levels unprecedented in recent memory,” says US Ambassador Datuk Paul Jones (left). Najib has held two bilateral meetings with Obama and most recently met Clinton at the Apec summit in Vladivostok, while US Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Attorney-General Eric Holder visited Malaysia this year.
Senior Congress leaders visited Malaysia and Malaysian delegations attended both the Republican and Democratic conventions recently.
Adds Jones: “The US and Malaysia are both looking towards taking our trade and investment relationship to the next level through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an ambitious next-generation Asia-Pacific trade agreement currently being negotiated among 11 countries.”
About 7,000 Malaysians study at tertiary institutions in the US and their ranks are swelling by an average of 10 per cent per year. Military education has also expanded. For example, the total value of training for Malaysian Armed Forces officers in the US last year was about US$2 million (RM6.2 million), while the US is also invited to send an officer to the Malaysian Armed Forces Staff College and Combat Survival courses each year.
As for the violent protests which the video sparked, Malaysia’s condemnation was natural as it does not support militancy or taking the law into one’s own hands. The killing of diplomatic staff is against the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961, Nathan points out.
Malaysia has 105 missions in 83 countries. “Our diplomats will have no security if they feel they can be vulnerable to the same kind of violence we saw in Libya,” he says.
In his statement about the video, Anifah said that by promoting GMM, “Malaysia would like to see the moderates counter the negative perceptions related to all religions and faiths. This movement also advocates embracing of moderation as an important value to overcome all forms of extremism.”
And GMM Foundation Chief Executive Officer Khalek Awang (right), in a press release, said it was timely for moderates, who make up the vast majority, to claim their rightful place: “People of good faith in all religions must drown out the voices of extremists and deny them from dictating the response of this inflammatory incident.”