Malaysian Reactions and the Political Calculus of Prime Minister Najib’s White House Visit


October 19, 2017

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Number 401 | October 18, 2017

ANALYSIS

Malaysian Reactions and the Political Calculus of Prime Minister Najib’s White House Visit

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On September 12, 2017, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak met with US President Donald Trump in the White House as part of his three-day visit to the United States. Within Malaysia, reactions to the meeting – in terms of both optics and substance – are bitterly divided; falling mostly along political lines. Notwithstanding the domestic reactions, Trump’s invitation to the controversial Malaysian prime minister and the deliberate shirking of the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) issue during the visit leave Najib in a position of perceived strength as he looks to extend his tenure as Prime Minister.

Meeting Hailed as a Milestone by Some, a Disgrace by Others

The Trump-Najib meeting went smoothly in diplomatic terms, with both leaders treating each other warmly and discussing agreeable agenda items. In the public meeting Trump extolled Malaysia’s role in investing in the United States, countering ISIS, and limiting its ties with North Korea. The Malaysian prime minister in turn offered “a strong value proposition” to the United States in terms of helping boost the US economy and being a loyal partner in eradicating terrorism. A joint statement addressed enhancing US-Malaysia defense ties, Malaysia’s progress to obtain visa free status to the United States, the situation in the South China Sea, the Rohingya crisis, and protecting human rights. If there were any private disagreements, they were not leaked.

For Najib’s domestic supporters and prominent government lawmakers, the meeting with Trump was seen as an unprecedented success and a legitimization of Najib as Malaysia’s elected leader. The optics couldn’t be better. The invitation to visit the White House was the first since former Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi visited in 2004 and comes in the first year of the Trump presidency. Additionally, Najib’s visit was the second by an ASEAN leader, after Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and ahead of Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong of Singapore – traditionally America’s most trusted Southeast Asian partner.

Substantively, Najib’s supporters saw the meeting and its deliverables as recognition of Malaysia as a key strategic partner and successful economy. In public remarks during the meeting in the Cabinet Room between the Malaysian delegation and Trump administration officials, Trump praised Najib’s domestic counterterrorism efforts against ISIS, highlighted Najib’s reluctance to do business with North Korea any longer, and hailed Malaysia as a big investor in the United States. Malaysia’s mainstream and government-affiliated media emphasized this, crediting Najib with expanding Malaysia’s international profile and role. Najib also scored a PR win with the US-Malaysia joint statement that condemned the violence against ethnic Rohingyas in Myanmar, touting it as a promise kept to Malaysians to raise the issue with the United States.

Image result for Trump and Najib at The White HouseGua Tolong Lu, Lu Tolong Gua (You help me, I help you)

This rosy picture of Najib’s visit, however, did not reflect the opinions of all Malaysians. Many – especially opposition supporters – while acknowledging the importance of their leader meeting the US president, focused on Najib’s personal and political gains, rather than gains for Malaysia. To them, optics surrounding the meeting were questionable. First, Najib and his entourage were alleged to have stayed at the Trump International Hotel, giving the impression that Najib sought to curry favor with Trump. Given media attention on possible conflicts of interest on the part of the US President, the decision to have a presence at the Trump hotel seemed like a calculated risk Najib was willing to take. Second, the glaring absence of a joint press conference during Najib’s visit to the White House reinforced the view among Najib’s opponents that he was skirting controversial questions – namely the 1MDB scandal and political repression in Malaysia.

Image result for Malaysia buys BoeingMany Malaysians were dismayed by the commercial “value proposition” offered by Najib to the United States.

 

In terms of deliverables, many Malaysians were dismayed by the commercial “value proposition” offered by Najib to the United States. Najib had announced that Malaysia Airlines, whose majority stake is owned by state sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional, will purchase high-capacity, long-distance Boeing aircraft worth $3 billion, with the possibility of more purchases in the future. Additionally, Najib stated that Malaysia’s retirement fund, the Employers Provident Fund (EPF), intended to invest $3-4 billion in Trump’s initiative to redevelop American infrastructure. Malaysians were indignant at possible diversion of funds to the US instead of fixing deteriorating infrastructure back home. And with the rising cost of living being a sore point for many people, the political opposition ridiculed Najib as being aloof and for selling Malaysia’s assets for his personal benefit. Najib’s fiercest critic, former Prime Minister Mahathir laughed at the idea of a developing country helping a developed country and opined that this was another illustration of Najib giving money to obtain political support.

“Exercises, training, and interoperability are the new emphases, and many Southeast Asian countries – unlike most in the South Pacific – no longer need extra funding to participate in exercises.”

The importance of protecting human rights aspect in the joint statement will appear ironic to many Malaysians as the authorities have been prosecuting opposition members and dissenters and stifling civil society activism in recent years

1MDB – the Elephant in the Room    

  
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The 1MDB issue was conspicuously left out at the Trump-Najib Meeting

At the time of the meeting, the 1MDB scandal continued to dog Najib. The US Justice Department was in the midst of civil lawsuits seeking to seize US assets worth about $1.7 billion linked to 1MDB. But the subject was conspicuously left out in all official proceedings. The only response from the White House communications when quizzed by reporters after the meeting was that they weren’t aware of conversations that came up in the meeting.

To Najib, his political coalition, and supporters, this omission was strategically crucial because it lent legitimization to Najib’s position as Malaysia’s leader and it gave him a strong case to repudiate the opposition’s charge linking him to the 1MDB scandal. Najib flying in to meet Trump without being denied entry or arrested by US law enforcement – as was claimed would happen by the political opposition – was spun by Najib’s supporters as proof that the opposition’s 1MDB allegation was nothing more than a political ploy. Domestically, Najib hopes to capitalize on this by allaying suspicions supporters and political fence-sitters have about his culpability in the scandal.

About the Author

Matthew Kah Weng Wong is a former researcher at the East-West Center in Washington. He can be contacted at matthew.wongkw@gmail.com.

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Peter Valente, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

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Home and away, Najib has a China dilemma


September 22, 2017

Home and away, Najib has a China dilemma

While the Malaysian leader relies on Beijing for economic succor, he’s still viewed skeptically by his country’s ethnic Chinese voting bloc with tight polls on the horizon

Singapore
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Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak looks on duringIndependence Day celebrations in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia August 31, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Lai Seng Sin

 

Prime Minister Najib Razak addressed Malaysia’s Chinese community at a well-attended gathering last week to urge support for his Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition government ahead of new national polls.

The leader called for stronger Chinese representation in his United Malays National Organization-led (UMNO) government and doubled down on promises of delivering prosperity and quality education across all of the country’s ethnic groups.

“If the Chinese voice is stronger in BN, then you are able to shape the policies and possibilities of this government even better and even stronger,” Najib said. “Without peace in the country, the Chinese will be the first to be targeted and that is why we are a moderate government committed to peace and mutual harmony.”

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While Najib placed emphasis on Malaysia as a multiracial nation and struck an overall moderate tone, others interpreted his remark as a fear-mongering veiled threat. Opposition parliamentarian Liew Chin Tong accused the premier of trying to win votes by “singling out the ethnic Chinese,” a move he said would actually undermine support for his government.

Malaysia’s next election is due by August 2018, though there is speculation that early polls could soon be announced. Najib’s outreach to the Chinese community signals an attempt to re-engage the minority voter bloc following general elections in 2013 where the BN coalition delivered its worst-ever election performance.

At the time, Najib acknowledged how ethnic Chinese voters had supported the opposition in droves, controversially characterizing their voting behavior as a “Chinese tsunami.” Najib initially vowed to undertake national reconciliation following the electoral upset, but instead has moved to burnish his Islamic credentials in a bid to consolidate support from conservative and rural ethnic Malay voters.

Ethnic Chinese communities make up around 23% of Malaysia’s population and are seen to be largely in opposition to Najib’s continued rule. His term has been defined by the international multi-billion dollar money laundering controversies related to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state development fund he created and until recently oversaw.

Lesser noticed, however, have been perennial allegations of money politics, elite corruption, stark political polarization and a widening cultural divide between Malaysia’s ethnic and religious groups that some fear could tip towards instability if not effectively reconciled.

Image result for Najib and HadiThis strange alliance with Hadi Awang may prove costly to Najib Razak in East Malaysia where Islamisation is viewed with anxiety and suspicion.

Recent studies show nearly half the country’s ethnic Chinese population have a strong desire to leave Malaysia due to perceived discrimination, political disenfranchisement and fears of Islamization. Nearly 88% of the 56,576 Malaysians who renounced their citizenship in the decade spanning 2006 to 2016 were ethnic Chinese.

Shortly after assuming office in 2009, Najib introduced the 1Malaysia national concept, a governing philosophy which placed emphasis on ethnic harmony, national unity and efficient governance. Following the 2013 election, the Prime Minister has placed less pretense on the talking points of the scheme, opting to posture as a defender of Islam and Malay unity.

“Political parties from both sides of the divide are centered around the Malay agenda, winning votes in Malay majority constituencies. Meanwhile, government efforts like 1Malaysia and its subsequent rebranding has neither substance nor strategy,” political analyst Khoo Kay Peng recently wrote. “The concept of unity is not even at the forefront of societal discussion.”

An important aspect of Najib’s domestic agenda in recent years has been the formation of a loose alliance with the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), which has an electoral stronghold in Malaysia’s rural and conservative north and advocates a hardline sharia punishment code known as hudud.

Abdul Hadi Awang, PAS’ influential President, was given tacit government approval to table a controversial hudud bill in parliament in 2015, which sought to ease some of the constitutional restrictions imposed on sharia courts in order to implement more severe punishments, subjecting offenders to longer prison sentences and corporal punishment.

Though observers were initially dismissive of Najib’s support for hudud, his government attempted to take over Hadi’s bill last year. The prime minister reversed course in March due to strong opposition from other BN coalition partners – notably from the Malaysian Chinese Association and other ethnic minority parties – and concerns it would dampen foreign investor sentiment.

Against a backdrop of political controversies and a deepening cultural divide, Malaysia’s upcoming general election is expected to be one of the tightest in decades. The political opposition, once a fractured grouping of disparate parties, appears more cohesive under the leadership of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who defected from UMNO and embraced opposition parties to form the Pakatan Harapan coalition.

Comeback kid: Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, 92, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Putrajaya, Malaysia, March 30, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Lai Seng Sin

 

Saving the Chinese from Racist UMNO–Don’t Depend on Najib Razak and MCA


September 21, 2017

Saving the Chinese from Racist UMNO–Don’t Depend on Najib Razak and least of all, MCA

by Ambassador Emeritus Dennis Ignatius

At last year’s UMNO General Assembly, Prime Minister Najib warned members of his party that the DAP, which is regularly derided as a “Chinese party” (and taken as code for Chinese in general), posed an almost existential threat to the Malays and Islam.

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Malay First Prime Minister Najib Razak needs Malay support to remain in power

He warned them that if the DAP ever came to power, everything that the Malays had fought for, everything that they had worked so hard to achieve, all their hopes and dreams, would be wiped out. He also went on to suggest that Bumiputra institutions like MARA, FELDA, RISDA and FELCRA would become “extinct and disappear.”

Should UMNO fall, he intoned, it would be a “nightmare” that would jeopardise the very existence of Malay-Muslims in the country.

Taken together with the slew of anti-Chinese comments that came out of that assembly, the message was clear enough: only UMNO could defend Malay interests from the so-called Chinese threat.

Having unabashedly fanned the flames of anti-Chinese sentiment to consolidate his grip over the party and to secure Malay support for UMNO, he turned his attention on Friday to cajoling Malaysian Chinese into giving him their support, suggesting that their very survival might now depend upon it.

Targeting the Chinese

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MCA President is  Honorary Member of UMNO

Standing before an MCA gathering absurdly themed ‘The Malaysian Chinese Patriotic Rally” (as if the patriotism of Malaysian Chinese was ever in doubt), he warned that Malaysian Chinese would be “the first to be targeted if there is no peace in this country.”

While he subsequently went on to make references to the IS threat as well, his message was widely perceived as a warning to Malaysian Chinese that if UMNO loses power in the next elections, they would be the first to be targeted.

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For a country still traumatised by the 1969 race riots, the warning to Malaysian Chinese was undoubtedly clear.

MCA’s damage control

In the wake of the furore that the Prime Minister’s remarks quite naturally generated, MCA leaders went into damage control mode claiming that his remarks were taken out of context and that he was referring more to the IS threat rather than anything else.

In the first place, Najib’s remarks as well as his intentions were clear enough to most people who saw the video which quickly went viral. In these days of instant replay, claims by politicians to have been misquoted or misrepresented are harder to sustain.

In the second place, there has never been any indication that Malaysian Chinese are the primary target of ISIS. According to the Police, ISIS has targeted our security forces and senior officials, endeavoured to disrupt the SEA games and the Merdeka celebrations, and planned attacks on some churches; no mention of Malaysian Chinese specifically. If anything, it is Muslims themselves that have suffered more from IS attacks than others.

In any case, if there were doubts as to the real meaning of his remarks, a simple clarification by the Prime Minister would have quickly settled the matter. That he has preferred to let things simmer suggests otherwise.

The indispensable party

In the absence of further clarification from the Prime Minister, we are left with the strange conclusion that Najib is now demanding Chinese support on the grounds that only UMNO can protect them from the very racism which UMNO itself champions and thrives upon.

Taken to its logical conclusion, it means that UMNO will now be defending the Malays from the Chinese and the Chinese from the Malays while simultaneously instilling fear in both.

What a cunning strategy to ensure that it remains the indispensible political party! The British would, no doubt, be envious of his divide and rule skills. 

A Prime Minister for all the people

If Najib and UMNO truly want to win the support and admiration of all of Malaysia’s diverse ethnic groups, he should first and foremost put an end the racist politics that has become synonymous with his own party.

As well, instead of making threats, he should ensure that the security and rights of all citizens are protected and safeguarded at all times, whether they vote for him or not. It is, after all, his constitutional obligation, his sacred duty, his solemn oath to the nation. Appeal for support by all means, but to threaten an ethnic community the way he did is simply beyond the pale.

For the MCA, the rally, which was called to help revive support for the party ahead of the elections, has turned into an unmitigated disaster, laying bare the disdain that UMNO leaders have for minority parties and generating a new wave of disgust and anger among its erstwhile supporters.

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The Hero of Petaling Street–China will protect its Diaspora. Malaysian Prime Minister will have his cojones squeezed if he allows UMNO Red Shirt Gangsters to harm the Chinese.

In the light of these developments, one can only wonder whether the hero of Petaling Street, the urban legend who single-handedly stared down the Red Shirts a few years ago and prevented a bloodbath in the centre of Kuala Lumpur, is quietly mulling his options.

Malaysia’s Foreign Policy is Clear and Consistent


September 17, 2017

Foreign Affairs Minister Anifah Aman: Malaysia’s Foreign Policy is Clear and Consistent

by Anifah Aman

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COMMENT | I refer to the comment article written by Rais Hussin, a supreme council member of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), who also heads the Policy and Strategy Bureau of PPBM, entitled All that glitters is not gold in US-Malaysia relationship which was published by Malaysiakini on 15 September 2017.

I noted Rais Hussin keen interests on the conduct of Malaysia’s foreign policy. As Rais Hussin would appreciate, Malaysia’s foreign policy is clear and consistent. Malaysia continues to pursue an independent, principled and pragmatic foreign policy, with the overarching thrust to safeguard its sovereignty and national interest as well as to contribute meaningfully towards a just and equitable community of nations.

The conduct of Malaysia’s foreign policy will continue to be guided by the principles of respect for independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and non–interference in the affairs of other nations, peaceful settlement of disputes, peaceful co–existence and mutual benefit in relations.

Therefore, I am perplexed to discover inaccurate and false narrative in his comment article, and wonder whether Rais Hussin was being deliberately obtuse. As such, I am compelled to address the inaccurate and false narrative, point by point as below:

1. Malaysia has entered the orbit of Chinese influence both commercially and militarily. On any given week, many illegal Chinese fishing vessels cruise along the coasts of West and East Malaysia.

As a small nation that relies heavily on international trade, Malaysia has no choice but to have relations with all countries in the world. As threats to peace and security become more complex, Malaysia has no choice but to work together with all countries in the world.

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Increased economic and investment activities between Malaysia and China were the result of globalisation and the law of supply and demand. Likewise, increased activities in the sphere of security would include closer military cooperation. It should in no way be construed as a sign that Malaysia has entered the orbit of Chinese influence. Malaysia has similar relations with many other countries, including the United States of America, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, France, Australia, Singapore, etc.

The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agencies (MMEA) will arrest any fishing vessels that conduct illegal fishing activities in Malaysia’s maritime areas. MMEA vessels and aircraft, as well as vessels and aircraft belonging to the Malaysian Armed Forces conduct routine patrol and surveillance of Malaysia’s maritime areas. Chinese fishing vessels have been spotted only sporadically, and therefore it is completely untrue and utterly erroneous to suggest that Chinese fishing vessels cruise along the coasts of West and East Malaysia on a weekly basis.

2. More oddly, the Foreign Minister Anifah Aman has allowed two Chinese submarines to dock in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, with the most recent berthing taking place just before Trump met Najib in the White House. The very act of allowing Chinese submarine to break into Malaysian waters, all without the formality of conducting a joint exercise, suggests that Malaysia is now a quasi-alliance of China that is willing to listen to Beijing at every turn. Thus, how can the US-Malaysia relationship serve as a building block of a stronger international maritime order?

It is true that Chinese warship and submarine made a port call at Kota Kinabalu, Sabah in early September 2017. That was not the first time that Chinese military vessels make a port call at Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, and would not be the last.

Military vessels from numerous countries including the United States of America, Australia, Japan, France, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, etc., have made port calls to various Malaysian ports, including at Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, and will continue to do so.

Therefore, it is clearly a fallacy to equate the recent docking of Chinese military vessels as a sign of Malaysia quasi–alliance with China.

Military vessels undertake port call at foreign countries to replenish supply, provide shore leave to the crew after long period at sea, as well as to undertake minor maintenance. Port call by foreign military vessels also contribute to local economies.

With regard to the procedure, any foreign military vessels planning to make port call at Malaysian ports, including at Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, must submit such request to the Government of Malaysia through diplomatic channels. Such request would be considered by the relevant Malaysian agencies before being submitted to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, for final approval.

It is also timely to state at this juncture that Malaysia upholds the supremacy of the rule of law. Malaysia believes that international law is the equaliser amongst states, regardless of their political, economic or military power. All countries must work together to ensure peace and stability, as well as maritime order.

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3. Fourthly, Malaysia did nothing monumental with regards to ASEAN and the East Asian Summit in 2015 when Putrajaya was the chair of both entities, except holding grandiose and well-choreographed meetings as a public relations stunt.

4. Yet, 2015 was the year when China’s militarisation of the South China Sea began in earnest.

5. If Malaysia couldn’t contain the situation in the South China Sea and North Korea, why should one believe that without chairing Asean and the East Asian Summit, Malaysia could wield even more influence?

Malaysia’s Chairmanship of ASEAN in 2015 was well–regarded by many countries. Malaysia’s constructive approach on various issues including the South China Sea and the Korean Peninsula (and North Korean nuclear issue) was well-received.

Malaysia has done admirably in advancing discourse on these issues, taking into account that ASEAN works on the principle of consensus, and as chairman, Malaysia is merely a facilitator.

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Malaysia’s policy on the South China Sea is clear and consistent. Throughout its chairmanship of ASEAN in 2015, Malaysia has impressed upon all countries the need to ensure peace, security and stability and to avoid the threat or use of force, as well as to avoid activities that could escalate or complicate situation. Malaysia further stated that recent activities have eroded trust and confidence amongst parties. Malaysia also called on all parties to ensure non–militarisation in the South China Sea.

Malaysia’s principled and consistent position was well–received and well–accepted, and reflected as agreed texts in various documents issued during Malaysia’s chairmanship including the various chairman’s statements, joint communique of Asean ministerial meeting, etc. The texts were also used in various documents during Laos chairmanship in 2016.


ANIFAH AMAN is Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Malaysia’s Grand Poobah’s Chequebook Diplomacy in Washington DC


September 15, 2017

Malaysia’s Grand Poobah’s Chequebook Diplomacy in Washington can be strategic, admits Ambassador Emeritus Dennis Ignatius

www,malaysiakini.com

 

COMMENT | Prime Minister Najib Razak’s recent White House soirée has brought Malaysia an unprecedented level of scrutiny and negative publicity. All major US newspapers, for example, unanimously panned the visit, highlighting the inappropriateness of inviting someone linked to an ongoing Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation (into 1MDB-related money-laundering charges).

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Najib’s Chequebook Diplomacy–Helping America Great Again impresses Donald J. Trump

It is a measure of just how far his reputation has fallen internationally after once having been feted everywhere as a reformist and moderate Muslim democrat. It is also a reminder of how little all of this really matters in a world dominated by realpolitik and the pursuit of strategic advantage.

Certainly, Najib himself didn’t appear to lose too much sleep over all the bad press. For him, the visit was clearly about positioning himself for the next elections and burnishing his credentials as a well-respected international leader able to run with some of the most powerful leaders in the world.

Image result for Najib and Trump in Washington DC

Taken together with earlier high-profile meetings with President Xi Jinping, King Salman Abdulaziz Al Saud and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the meeting with Trump, as well as Britain’s Theresa May, lends credence to Najib’s narrative that under his stewardship, Malaysia has become “a rising star” and a “global player.”

While the urban crowd and opposition supporters will no doubt shake their heads in disbelief, it will play well with Najib’s rural base, effectively neutralising the 1MDB issue, arguably Najib’s most troublesome political challenge.

Najib’s grand strategy

Beyond the optics and the controversy over 1MDB, the visit also revealed a side to Najib that will surely drive the opposition to further despair: he is proving to be a far better strategist than he’s been given credit for.

He has parlayed the powers of his office and all the levers of state control at his disposal to successfully play off both China and the US to his advantage.

It might be recalled that he deliberately pivoted to China after his falling-out with the Obama Administration.

In Beijing, last year, he complained about foreign meddling, of being treated unfairly, of being lectured to by Western powers. In not so many words, he went on to contemptuously dismiss the US and other Western powers as has-beens with no future in Asia and hinted about a new strategic partnership with China.

It appears that Washington, already alarmed at China’s growing clout in the region, quickly got the message. Washington will now play along to get along.

Furthermore, with a more amoral (some would say unscrupulous) occupant in the White House to do business with, and with Beijing beginning to get too demanding (as witnessed by the unravelling of the Bandar Malaysia deal), Najib might have also seen the need to recalibrate the balance between the US and China.

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Playing the China-US Hedging Game

Better relations with Washington will now give Najib more room to manoeuvre. It will also allow Najib to undercut opposition criticism that he is too close to China.

He has thus put both Washington and Beijing on notice: be nice to me and I’ll be nice to you. It is, in fact, the global application of his domestic political approach: as he once told Chinese Malaysians, “If you show support [for UMNO-BN] we have no problem giving more… if not, difficult lah.”

Though it is still too early to predict how all this will turn out, no other prime minister has displayed such a flair for big power gamesmanship as he.

Buying his way to respectability

In order to demonstrate to both the US and China that they have much to gain both strategically and economically by being supportive of his administration, Najib has resorted to a form of chequebook diplomacy hitherto only used by rich and powerful countries – promising contracts, investments and big-ticket purchases in exchange for support and endorsement.

With China, Najib generously granted PRC corporations billions of ringgit in infrastructure contracts, even favouring PRC contractors over our own.

He has also earned the undying gratitude of President Xi by wholeheartedly embracing the latter’s One Belt One Road (Obor) initiative, dismissing concerns about the viability and lack of transparency of many Obor projects.

And under his watch, Malaysia made its first purchase of defence equipment from China.

In Washington, Najib opened his chequebook once again promising to buy more than RM42 billion in new aircraft for Malaysian Airlines (MAS), RM300 million in fighter jets for the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF), and to direct RM12 billion to RM16 billion in new investments from the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) and Kazanah Nasional to US infrastructure projects.

He also promised to “persuade” AirAsia to switch from British-made Rolls Royce engines to American-made GE engines.

No doubt, this was all music to Trump’s ears, a small contribution to making American great again.

American officials, of course, deny the visit will have any impact on the DOJ investigations but does anybody really believe that Najib would have made all those expensive promises simply to make Trump feel good?

After this, expect European and Japanese salesmen-politicians to come knocking at our doors with hat in hand and high praise for Najib on their lips. For so long as there’s money to be made, inconvenient issues like human rights and good governance will not be allowed to get in the way.

Cost of Najib’s generosity

The downside, however, is that Malaysia’s already beleaguered opposition, as well as its human rights defenders, can now expect no sympathy or moral support from the US and other democracies.

Najib has neatly turned the tables on his detractors; far from isolating him internationally, he has now marginalised them at home.

Worse still, the nation will have to pay a heavy price for Najib’s extravagant chequebook diplomacy.  We are already heavily indebted to China; now we will be driven into even greater debt with billions of new borrowing to pay for Najib’s Washington promises.That the government of a cash-strapped developing country, which has had to impose a new tax (GST) on its own hard-pressed and long-suffering populace just to stay afloat, would offer such an extravagant economic boost to one of the richest economies in the world is both unprecedented and mind-boggling.

DENNIS IGNATIUS, a former Malaysian ambassador, firmly believes that we should put our trust not in the leadership of politicians but in the sanctity of great institutions – our secular and democratic constitution, a democratically-elected parliament, an independent judiciary, a free press and a government fully accountable to the people. He blogs here.

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When Two Grand Poobahs Meet, there are Fireworks–Of Najib and Donald


September 15,2017

Note: Malaysia’s Grand Poobah cum Corrupter Numero Uno,Najib Razak, will make his triumphant appearance at The Bunga Raya VIP complex at around 8 pm today to a hero’s welcome after a “successful visit”  to The Trump White House. A hero? Well, I am aghast at our lack of understanding of the concept of hero. To his supporters in UMNO and Barisan Nasional, one has to a robber and also an unconvicted felon to qualify.

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Welcome Home Wira Negara from The United States

A reader of this blog from Silicon Valley with a Masters Degree from Stanford University in Palo Alto, California and former Malaysian and Vietnam War Veteran wrote this about Najib’s taxpayer funded trip:

“One crook playing host to another crook. Nothing new here. Donald Trump is turning the White House into a Club House for criminals, kleptocrats and dictators, where they exchange tips on how to tap into different government assets to transfer directly into their bank accounts. Kleptocrat Najib is Trump’s kind of guy. Trump is figuring out how to scam him out of the money he criminally stole from the Malaysian people.

And oh ya, Najib has paid a lot of money coming to pay homage at this Club House. It’s called Pay For Play… yeah, I didn’t invent the phrase, I plagiarized it. No red carpet. No state dinner. And, of course, no press conference because there’re plenty of something to hide. Najib just needed a pat on his head from Trump, so that he can return home to brag and boast and lie to his people that he’s the blessings from Trump to screw them up more.

Sure, all these criminal politicians,dictators and kleptocrats, when booking rooms for coming to pay homage at the Club House, have to pretend not knowing that the “Trump International Hotel” belongs to Donald Trump. Of course they know they’re lining Trump’s pockets by staying at his hotel, and easy enough to leave “something extra for the proprietor” without it going through official channels. It’s a bribe that isn’t officially a bribe. In country like Malaysia where bribes and cronyism are extensively common, Najib is the Grand Poobah who knows how to do it.”

I am now posting Dr. Lim Teck Ghee’s article on Najib’s pilgrimage to The White House to pay homage to America’s Grand Poobah to welcome Yang Amat Berhormat Dato’ Seri and  Yang Amat DiKasihi Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor home.

At that brief meeting, our Prime Minister pledged to help the United States economically with a value proposition comprising  Malaysia Airlines’ purchase of Boeings and investments by EPF and Khazanah Nasional Berhad plus expenses incurred at Trump International Hotel which are underwritten by Malaysian taxpayers.–Din Merican

When Two Grand Poobahs Meet, there are Fireworks–Of Najib and Donald

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

Observers of the recent meeting of the US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Najib Razak may have underestimated the admiration that the two leaders have for each other and their shared ideological leanings, besides their common interest in spending time with golf buddies.

Image result for Najin Razak and trump

Trump has gone on record during his recent Republican Presidential campaign to famously declare:

My whole life I’ve been greedy, greedy, greedy. I’ve grabbed all the money I could get. I’m so greedy. But now I want to be greedy for the United States. I want to grab all that money. I’m going to be greedy for the United States.

The first part of his declaration no one should have any doubt about.

As to the second part, let history judge if Trump is able to protect the interest of the United States through his principle of greed and me-first and last. For now, he has severe problems with his home audience, recording the lowest rating of any president since approval rating polls on US Presidents started in the 1940s.

In the last few days there has been a slight uptick in Trump’s approval rating. But this cannot be attributed to Najib’s visit.

The visit of our esteemed Prime Minister – Trump’s “favourite Prime Minister” according to a signed photo apparently prominently displaced in Najib’s office – may be trumpeted by the local media as a triumph and coup. The New Straits Times, for example, has given pride of place to an article by the foreign affairs magazine, The Diplomat, which noted that it was the second visit by a Southeast Asian leader to Trump’s White House (after Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc of Vietnam) and assessed the visit as “a feat within the context of the bilateral relationship”.

Visit An Own Goal?

However, more astute Malaysia watchers are wondering if the Prime Minister’s side may have kicked an own goal in pushing for the visit which appears planned to boost Najib’s image and the Barisan Nasional’s prospects in the coming 14th General election.

The feedback of respected media in the United States and internationally has not only been unanimously critical. It has also put the spotlight again on the United States Department of Justice’s (DOJ) probe – its largest kleptocracy investigation ever – into potential fraud surrounding the 1MDB fund and, among other alleged crimes, as to whether the prime minister – indirectly referred to as “Malaysian Official 1” diverted more than $1billion to his own bank account.

Image result for Najin Razak and trump

In a stinging op-ed on  September 6, the widely read and influential, The Wall Street Journal urged Trump to cancel the meeting using domestic concerns as a pretext. Assessing it a mistake to accord Najib a visit, the paper identified him as an authoritarian who may be implicated in the money-laundering scandal involving 1MDB.

“Any embarrassment is better than giving a scandal-tainted leader a White House photo-op,” the editorial concluded.

Now that the visit is over, follow up news reports have focused on whether it was appropriate for the Prime Minister and his entourage to stay at the Trump International Hotel – a move seen as injudicious, if not unethical, in view of the President’s personal interest in the hotel. Cynical reports have described stays by foreign delegations at the hotel, which is managed by Trump’s children, as creating opportunities for special interests to enrich the President as well as attempts at currying favour with him.

So what did the Prime Minister actually bring home from the visit, assuming like Trump, he was greedy for Malaysia. The visit ostensibly was to mark 60 years of bilateral relations of the two countries so there was no new breakthrough in relationship to pursue. All that was achieved was the reaffirmation of the US as a strategic partner in trade and ally in regional and security issues against ISIS and North Korea.

But Najib did bring a shopping list to help Trump “in strengthening the US economy”. Included in this list was the purchase of Boeing planes estimated at more than US10 billion in value and a possible similar sum to be invested in the US by Khazanah Nasional and EPF.

In return for this generous contribution from our fund strapped national treasury to the world’s strongest economy, Najib did not return empty handed. Trump praised Najib for his “major role in not allowing Islamic State and others (terror groups) to exist”. And apparently that was all that Najib was able to squeeze out of his “greedy for the United States” golfing partner.

Will his visit derail the ongoing DOJ investigation into the 1MDB scandal? According to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders when asked if Trump would address the DOJ investigation:

“We’re not going to comment on an ongoing investigation being led by DOJ, and that investigation is apolitical and certainly independent of anything taking place [during the meeting of the two leaders]”.

Whether the visit will influence the DOJ in any way is a big unknown. But it must be clear to the Prime Minister’s backroom boys assessing the outcome that the Prime Ministers’s position on domestic issues such as human rights violations, religious extremism and political abuses remain subject to international scrutiny and that the Prime Minister will have even less wriggle room in the event of another controversy or crisis.