Obama’s Visit–The Sheer Hypocrisy of it all

November 25, 2015

Obama’s Visit–The Sheer Hypocrisy of it all

by Azmi Sharom


Agong and Obama

Issues of good governance, democracy and human rights will always be low on the agenda of any country when dealing in foreign affairs.

THE first American president to visit us was Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) in the 1960s. His reasons for visiting were probably the same as President Barack Obama’s: security (although in those days it was about the “threat” of Vietnam and the feared domino effect of nations falling under the thrall of Communism, whereas now it’s Islamic State) and economy (although then it was probably more about ensuring we keep on supplying tin and rubber whereas now it’s about keeping us from being too influenced by China).

Whenever the President of the United States visits another country, he is bound to make waves of some sort. According to oral history (i.e. my mum and dad), when LBJ came here all sorts of craziness ensued, like the inexplicable chopping-down of strategic trees; as though some renegade monkey was going to throw himself at the presidential convoy.

Our Prime Minister at the time, Tunku Abdul Rahman, wasn’t too fussed about the visit, saying that Johnson needn’t have come at all.

 Obama’s visit wasn’t quite as colourful, with security measures being limited to thousands of guns and the closing of the Federal Highway (no more monkeys in KL) and all our leaders expectedly excited and giddy.

What I found interesting about Mr Obama’s trip is his consistent request to meet with “the youth” and civil society. He did it the last time he was here and he did it again this time.

This is all well and good; he’s quite a charming, intelligent fellow and he says soothing things. So what if he gave us a couple of hours of traffic hell (in this sense, the American Presidency is fair for he treats his citizens and foreigners alike: I have been reliably informed that whenever Obama visits his favourite restaurant in Malibu, the whole town is gridlocked by security measures. What, you can’t do take away, Barack?).

Anyway, I see no harm in all these meetings. But then neither do I see any good. At least not any real and lasting good, apart from perhaps the thrill of meeting one of the most powerful people on earth and having him say things that match your own world view.

The world of social media went a bit loopy when a young man at the “town hall meeting” with youths asked the President to raise issues of good governance with our Prime Minister, to which he replied that he would. And maybe he did, but at the end of the day, so what?

Frankly that’s all he will do, a bit of lip service, because issues of good governance, democracy and human rights will always be low on the agenda of any country when dealing in international affairs. They may make a big song and dance about it, but they don’t really care.

And before you accuse me of anti-Americanism, I believe this applies to most, if not all, countries. The Americans like us because we appear to be hard in the so-called “war on terror”.

They need us, not because we are such a huge trading partner, but because they want us on their side (by way of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement) in the economic battles that they have been, and will be, continuing to fight against China.

We see this behaviour of putting self-interest over any sort of serious stand on principle happening again and again. Why is it that the United Nations Security Council did nothing when Saddam Hussein massacred thousands of Kurds using chemical weapons, but took hurried military action when he invaded Kuwait?

Perhaps it is because at the time of the Kurdish genocide, Saddam was fighting Iran which was deemed by some, at least, as the great enemy. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, even if he is a genocidal butcher.

It is trite to mention the hypocrisies abound in international relations. Anyone with the vaguest interest in world affairs can see it. To expect any less is naïve.

Besides, there is another danger of having a big power like the US mess around with our national problems. If they do so, it will be all too easy for the rabid so-called nationalists amongst us to scream that foreign intervention is leading to loss of sovereignty and national pride. Their “patriotism” will muddy the waters, adding issues to confuse people when there need not be any added issues at all.

azmi sharom

The point of this article is this – for those of us who want to create a nation with true democracy and respect for human rights, we’re on our own folks.



Japan and China step up rivalry over ASEAN infrastructure contracts

November 24, 2015

Japan and China step rivalry over ASEAN infrastructure contracts

by Ben Bland in Kuala Lumpur

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/f20f9fec-90f4-11e5-bd82-c1fb87bef7af.html 11/23/2015

ASEAN's Time

China and Japan are stepping up their battle for strategic infrastructure projects in Southeast Asia amid rising economic competition and tensions over maritime disputes.

At an annual summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in Kuala Lumpur this weekend, China pledged to add another $10bn to its growing pool of infrastructure lending in Southeast Asia, while Japan vowed to halve the time it takes to approve infrastructure loans and take on more financial risk.

China recently beat Japan to win a $5bn high-speed rail project in Indonesia on the back of no-strings financing that did not require the Indonesian government to act as guarantor.

China and Japan are going head to head to secure other high-speed rail projects, including one linking Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, as well as bidding against each other for ports, power stations and other infrastructure deals across this fast-growing region.

Shinzo Abe, Japan’s Prime Minister, said in a speech that Japan’s official development assistance must keep pace with the speed of change in Asia.

Xi and Abe with Jokowi

“We will drastically reduce the time needed for going through the procedures for ODA loans by as much as one and a half years compared with the current system,” he said, promising a significant reduction from the current average processing time of three years. We will also revise the current practice of requiring without exception recipient governments’ payment guarantees.”

A senior Japanese diplomat said that Tokyo had to become more “expeditious” in executing infrastructure projects in Asia, rather than simply highlighting that it has a better record than China in terms of quality, safety and social and environmental protection.

Beijing also pledged to accelerate and deepen its economic co-operation in Southeast Asia with Premier Li Keqiang promising $10bn of new loans for infrastructure as well as an increase in grants to the region’s less developed nations.

Sale of 1MDB Power Assets to China

China rescues Najib Razak from 1MDB scandal

While China clashes at sea with Japan and some Southeast Asian nations including Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, Beijing and its rivals are competing to build alternative spheres of economic influence.

Malaysia, Vietnam, Japan and the US were among 12 nations that recently signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pact that excludes China and is designed to promote a rules-based trading and investment system in the region.

Beijing has backed a rival trade deal with Southeast Asia, called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership,  that has fewer requirements for economic liberalisation.  But hopes to conclude RCEP by the end of the year received a blow on Sunday when Malaysia, which is chairing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, said that negotiations would not be concluded until next year because of the “challenges faced”.

Xi Jinping, China’s President, made an implicit criticism of the TPP on Wednesday when he warned at another regional forum in Manila that “with various new regional free trade frameworks cropping up, fragmentation is becoming a concern”. Despite Beijing’s concerns, since the TPP was agreed last month other Southeast Asian nations including Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand have said they are interested in joining.

“With the TPP now finally coming to fruition, it increasingly seems like it is the best game in town in terms of driving economic development,” said a minister from one of the Southeast Asian nations keen to sign up. “But given the state of our economy and the fact that the existing TPP participants must ratify the deal first, it will take several years before we can join.”

Barack Obama, US President, welcomed the new interest in the TPP from Southeast Asian nations, claiming that the pact would “write the rules for trade in the Asia Pacific for decades to come”, promoting the resolution of economic disputes through dialogue rather than “bullying or coercion”.

ASEAN Civil Society welcomes the Launch of ASEAN Community with reservations

November 23, 2015

ASEAN Civil Society welcomes the Launch of ASEAN Community with reservations

For the peoples of ASEAN, this long-awaited moment is met with some disappointment.While the documents signed are replete with language premised on a people-centred community that belongs to all, there remains serious scepticism on the part of civil society as to what the agreements reached and commitments made by ASEAN governments will actually mean for human rights, democracy, development and environment  for the ASEAN peoples.


The ASEAN Civil  Society congratulates the ASEAN leaders for the launching of the new ASEAN Community. This community, our community, is what we have been looking forward to for a long time.

The 27th ASEAN Summit and Related Summits 2015 has officially signed the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the establishment of the ASEAN Community and the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the ASEAN Community Vision 2025.

Further, we have also witnessed the signing of the ASEAN Convention against Human Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Actip).

For the peoples of ASEAN, this long-awaited moment is met with some disappointment. While the documents signed are replete with language premised on a people-centred community that belongs to all, there remains serious scepticism on the part of civil society as to what the agreements reached and commitments made by ASEAN governments will actually mean for human rights, democracy, development and environment for the ASEAN peoples.

Asean Economic Community 2016

In his opening address on November 21, 2015, Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak, as 2015 chair of ASEAN, declared that Asean had stressed “community and consensus building, over the excesses of individualism and the seeking of selfish objectives”.

He added in his statement that the adoption of the ASEAN Community marked the culmination of decades of effort to integrate, cohere and to forge ahead together.

However, a dichotomy exists between the integration touted by ASEAN officials and the socially minded integration sought by civil society.

“What does this really mean for the peoples of ASEAN?” asked Jerald Joseph of Pusat Komas, chair of the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN Peoples’ Forum (ACSC/APF) 2015.

“Regional integration might be the goal but could it be instead selective integration, which has the potential of widening the development gaps? We recognise that this region has huge disparities in political, economic and social development and bargaining powers in the region.”

“Thus ensuring measures are in place to ensure fair representation of diverse interests of the peoples in ASEAN rather than certain dominant nations and interests of certain groups, especially the businesses and the multi-national corporations must be made a priority,” he said.

The ASEAN Community 2015 cannot focus only on integration policies which clearly provide economic and development gains without also removing its reluctance to commit to addressing issues which are deemed to infringe on national sovereignty such as internal conflict, territorial disputes, environmental degradation, treatment of minorities and human rights violations which have negative trans-boundary impacts and consequences.

Today we also witnessed the signing of the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on ASEAN 2025, Forging Ahead Together, which incorporates the ASEAN Community Vision. The rhetoric around the vision claims that it will be a “bold, visionary, progressive and forward-looking document to reflect the aspirations of the next generation of ASEAN nationals”.

“A review of the document adopted falls short of the above aspirations,” said Joseph. “Despite the ambitious claim, it continues to retain mediocre ASEAN commitment.An example is the commitment to eradicating corruption which seem to focus more on ‘establishing support’, ‘developing programmes’ and ‘strengthening cooperation’, rather than actual commitment on policy and institutional changes. This is typical of ASEAN adopting the lowest common denominator as the threshold for action.”

This new vision gave the possibility of a new approach. Unfortunately it is again a missed opportunity.

The human rights agenda of ASEAN in its Vision 2025 yet again focuses too much on the promotional aspect without a solid protection framework inserted.

Civil society’s call for the mainstreaming human rights in the ASEAN Community 2015 process and in the ASEAN Vision 2015 has again been ignored or given peripheral attention.

“Commitment to human rights is again rather fragmented and established in silos in the 3 pillars’ blueprints,” said Wathshlah Naidu of Women’s Aid Organisation Malaysia, who led the drafting of the ACSC/APF 2015 statement and outcome document.

“It has not holistically addressed how Asean plans to respond to and share resources in addressing emerging issues and issues exacerbated by regional integration such as migration, asylum seekers and refugees and heightened extremism and terrorism.

“Purely addressing these regional concerns as security issues without a grounding in human rights principles and standards creates the path for continued human rights violations.”

Naidu added that “gender equality and the diversity of peoples of ASEAN are also not reflected comprehensively in the Vision.

“Eliminating all forms of discrimination and human rights violations is fundamental towards achieving regional integration that is rooted in achieving equality of all ASEAN countries and its peoples.”

Another key concern raised by civil society is the lack of meaningful and substantive participation, inclusion and representation of all peoples of ASEAN in the drafting process of the ASEAN Vision 2025.

“As civil society, we demand that ASEAN stop co-opting its peoples through its rhetoric on ‘people-centred’ or ‘people-oriented’ mantras without genuinely making the commitment and institutionalising a process where all interests of its diverse peoples are included in its policy documents and agreements through meaningful dialogue with all stakeholders,” said Soe Min Than of Think Center Singapore, who is also a member of the ACSC/APF 2015 Regional Steering Committee.

“ASEAN can only demonstrate its commitment to community building and implementation of the ASEAN Community agenda and the ASEAN Vision 2025 by ensuring engagement of all stakeholders through multifaceted dialogue, feedback and effective participation in determining and shaping the aspiration and future of the region and its peoples.”

As ASEAN moves on with its summit with various dialogue partners, ASEAN civil society again reiterates its concerns and recommendations made over the last 10 years of engagement and calls on ASEAN to escalate its responses to the interventions by the civil society.

“We look forward to strengthened solidarity, understanding and coordinated actions among ASEAN and civil society as key stakeholder for a truly ‘people-oriented, people-centred and rules-based ASEAN Community’,” said Pen Somony of the Cambodian Volunteers for Society, who is also a member of the ACSC/APF 2015 Regional Steering Committee.



Obama to Najib: Release Malaysia’s Prisoner of Conscience

November 23, 2015

Obama to Najib: Release Malaysia’s Prisoner of Conscience

by John R. Malott


One person told me that Najib’s response was that he had to follow Malaysia’s legal system. To me, it is ironic that Najib wants to hide behind Malaysia’s legal system, because he certainly has had no hesitation to use and abuse it for his own political ends.–John R.Malott

I have heard from five people, both Malaysians and Americans and all in a position to know, that during his meeting with Najib Razak on November 20, US President Barack Obama called on the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib to release former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim from prison.

The request reportedly was made on humanitarian grounds, because of Anwar’s deteriorating health. But the US government position that Anwar’s trial was flawed and politically-motivated, and that Anwar is a political prisoner, is a matter of record.

One person told me that Najib’s response was that he had to follow Malaysia’s legal system. To me, it is ironic that Najib wants to hide behind Malaysia’s legal system, because he certainly has had no hesitation to use and abuse it for his own political ends.

And it’s not just against the opposition anymore. Now he’s going after critics in his own party, as well as investigators who have gotten too close to the truth.

A lot has happened since the famous golf game last December. Starting with Anwar’s conviction in February, there was that major front page expose in the New York Times, detailing all the allegations of corruption surrounding Najib and his family.

Sarawak Report started exposing more and more documents about 1MDB and the missing billions. The 1MDB reporting was all very complicated and convoluted, because the paper trails were hard to follow. But then The Wall Street Journal published an article that everyone could understand. US$700 million (RM2.6 billion) had allegedly ended up in Najib’s personal bank account, and for weeks he could not explain how it got there.

And then, just like magic, most of that money allegedly went overseas again – but no one knows where, and Najib isn’t talking. Everyone could understand that story – you don’t need an MBA in international finance. Then New York Times reported that Najib and his family were under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) under the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative. What a name!

As for human rights and democracy, Najib’s crackdown on the opposition has been reported widely in the Western press. Human Rights Watch recently put out a 151-page report on the “climate of fear” that Najib has created. Unprecedented – 151 pages! Then there was that United Nations group that recently called for Anwar’s release.

Obama is a lawyer. He now understands that the evidence is overwhelming and that Najib is not the man he thought he was. As I have said before, Obama is not the only world leader who believed Najib’s rhetoric of reform. But put it all together, and with all the news this year, it reached the point where Obama finally recognised the reality about both Malaysia and Najib.

Change in stand

Last February we launched the White House petition on ‘We, the People’, which called for making Anwar’s release from prison a priority for US foreign policy. That has now happened.

But that is not thanks to me or the petition, it is thanks to the great investigative reporting in the world press, on Malaysian websites, and on Sarawak Report. Especially, it is thanks to the courage of so many Malaysians who refuse to be intimidated by the heavy hand and threats of Malaysia’s Home Minister and Inspector-General of Police (IGP).

ambassador-john-malottI agree totally with what Obama told the civil society leaders whom he just met in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday. America has many interests in Malaysia – and not just the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). It includes our longstanding trade and investment ties, military and foreign policy cooperation, and working together on so many issues like refugees, counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism, and the environment. But I am glad that human rights and democracy are once again on the list of our priorities in Malaysia.

I have been critical of Obama’s hands-off stance on human rights in Malaysia over the past few years. But now I have to say thank you. Not only did he discuss these matters with Najib, he is the first President to actually call for Anwar’s release from prison since Anwar was first jailed in 1998. Neither Bill Clinton nor George W Bush ever went that far.

I hope that this more visible and active US effort will continue, but not just to secure Anwar’s freedom. We need to be even more vocal in Malaysia and around the world in addressing human rights, political freedom, and religious and racial discrimination. Free and fair elections are essential to change. Corruption, the abuse of the legal system, and special treatment for government-linked companies (GLCs) hurts American companies trying to do business in Malaysia as much as it hurts Malaysian companies.

America needs to stand clearly on the side of those Malaysians who are seeking the changes that will lead to a brighter future for Malaysia. The current trajectory – with more and more Malaysians themselves starting to refer to their own country as a “failed” or “failing” state – should be of concern to everyone, and not just Malaysians.

This needs to be a coordinated international effort, working with the UN, human rights NGOs, and like-minded governments from around the world. It should not be just America alone, for the reasons that Obama described in his talk at Taylor’s University to the young Southeast Asian leaders. America should not be seen as the “nanny state,” lecturing others and ignoring its own shortcomings.

Malaysia, Najib, and the ruling party need the international equivalent of a “family intervention,” sort of a “Friends of Malaysia” grouping, where out of concern and love you try to break through the pattern of denial and help the person – or in this case, the country – get the “treatment” it needs before it destroys itself.

Finally, I am confident that there will always be courageous Malaysians who will continue to struggle for true democracy and political freedom, against the growing authoritarianism in their country. I hope their numbers will grow. For in the end, while the outside world can be supportive, only the Malaysian people can bring change.

As Obama said many times, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

JOHN R.MALOTT is former US Ambassador to Malaysia and a true friend of Malaysian Civil Society. We are grateful that Ambssador Malott continues to play an important role for us in Washington DC. American legislators in Congress need to know about developments in Malaysia. We cannot rely on our Ambassador in Washington, Dr Awang Adek, who is a UMNO politician and Najib’s personal emissary to the Obama administration, to speak up for us since he is a stooge. I also wish to acknowledge the contributions of Malaysians who are living in the Washington Area for their support.–Din Merican

ASEAN: Bridging the South China Sea Dispute

November 22, 2015

ASEAN: Bridging the South China Sea Dispute

by Mergawati Zulfakar


South China Sea

Nobody wants to admit it publicly, at least on the Malaysian side that the ASEAN Defence Ministers Plus meeting in Malaysia early this month nearly became a disaster.

Disagreement between the United States and China over how to address the South China Sea issue resulted in the ministers failing to issue a joint declaration outlining ­cooperation in regional security matters.

The United States and its allies had pressed for a mention of disputes in the South China Sea in the joint declaration while a senior US defence official said China had lobbied ASEAN members to avoid any reference.

South China Sea

This is not the first time maritime and territorial disputes in the South China Sea became an issue. ASEAN Foreign Ministers ended a meeting in Cambodia two years ago without issuing the customary joint communique as there had been disagreement over the growing assertiveness of China in the South China Sea.

 The South China Sea is fast becoming a focal point especially since four of the six claimant countries are ASEAN members, namely Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. The other two are China and Taiwan.

This week as the 27th ASEAN Summit and related summits begin, the issue is escalating again. It will be interesting to see how as Asean chair Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak will handle leaders from China and the United States during the 10th East Asia Summit (the Asean 10 plus Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the US).

Should the host country downplay the issue as it doesn’t want to get the unnecessary attention of China? Well, it depends on the situation.

A senior Malaysian official said Malaysia should not sweep it under the carpet as it was a claimant country.“As chair we have to be objective, we have to be fair but we have to reflect the discussions that will take place. If the South China Sea is featured substantially in the leaders’ discussion, then it will have to be reflected in the 27th ASEAN Summit chairman statement and China will have to understand that.We do not want to isolate anybody. We have our views and perhaps ours will probably not be the same as Vietnam or the Philippines. Still, we have to acknowledge all these diverse views and it should be reflected in the statement.”

ASEAN and China have long been working on a binding code of conduct (CoC) to address numerous issues faced by claimant countries. However, only a Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea was finalised and signed in 2002.

The declaration reaffirms the parties’ commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and other international laws on state-to-state relations. It also states that ASEAN members and China should resolve disputes “by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations”.

In the last few years, China has been rather aggressive in reclaiming the area and latest reports suggest Beijing is trying to establish a de facto 12-mile territorial zone around the reclaimed area by building airstrips and other facilities for military forces.

These activities have been received with much criticism from claimant countries like the Philippines and Vietnam.

During the ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting in Kuala Lumpur in August in a joint communique issued, the ministers in criticising China had said reclamation activities carried out in the disputed area could undermine the peace, security and stability in the area.

However, in recent weeks, Chinese President Xi Jinping has been more conciliatory in his remarks by saying China has always insisted the dispute should be resolved peacefully through talks but Beijing has a responsibility to protect the country’s sovereignty and maritime rights.

One official believed that China was so far advanced in reclamation of the area that there was no turning back. “They won’t reverse in what­ever they are doing so they can afford to be conciliatory. Now they can talk about the CoC because they have managed to change the reality on the ground, building port facilities, military buildings and even an airstrip on the islands. It is like checkmate, really,” the official said.

Another concern now is that they have widely reclaimed the area and that their authority has become more effective in the area. “So potentially their claim can over time be supported in international courts,” warned the official.

Another concern is a recent move by a US warship conducting a so-called freedom-of-navigation patrol around the area claimed by Beijing.

“It is worrying really. The question is to what extent do you want to challenge China? It can turn the area into a hotspot which we have avoided all these years,” said an official.

For Malaysia, its quiet diplomacy to manage the issue has worked well so far.Kuala Lumpur has to be careful how it deals with China, which is its biggest trading partner. At the same time in recent years, Malaysia has developed solid relations with Washington.

“We do not want instability in the region and we do not know how China as a superpower will behave in future. We do not know how they will treat us and maybe it is good to have somebody to provide a check and balance,”said an official.

Barack Obama is hypocritical on Human Rights abuses in Malaysia

November 22, 2015

Barack Obama is hypocritical on Human Rights abuses in Malaysia

by FMT Reporters


Obama shakes hands with Najib

Obama and his Golfing Buddy: US interests first

BERSIH leader Maria Chin Abdullah has spoken about US President Barack Obama’s balancing act, between US concerns about human rights violations in Malaysia and US concerns with its economic relations with the country.

“We will engage on business and trade, but we will also speak on civil liberties. Don’t think we can’t do both,”– Barack Obama

Her comment came after a meeting that civil society leaders had a private meeting with the US President at the US Embassy here.

Hours earlier, BERSIH had issued a press statement urging Obama and the US government not to appear hypocritical by supporting authoritarian leaders such as Najib for the sake of US interests while also preaching about human rights to the rest of the world.

Chin said civil society leaders at today’s meeting were told by Obama that “while the US recognised the civil liberties violation in Malaysia but at the same time they have to balance the issue with the economic ties they have with Malaysia”.

In remarks quoted by Malaysiakini, she said Obama had repeated the message twice. “So that tells you quite a bit,” she said.

Although Obama’s public statements have been muted, he had told the civil society leaders that he had raised several issues with Najib at their meeting yesterday. “We will engage on business and trade, but we will also speak on civil liberties. Don’t think we can’t do both,” Obama was quoted as saying.

Najib and ASEAN Leaders

ASEAN Leaders from left to right, Philippines’ President Benigno Aquino III, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Laos’ Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Myanmar’s President Thein Sein pose for photographs during opening ceremony of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Saturday, November. 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Obama said he had raised human rights issues, the jailing of former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and the treatment of political dissidents, according to former BERSIH leader Ambiga Sreenevasan.

“I also expressed that since we met last year, the current situation has deteriorated and he listened and appreciated that we are now facing some difficulties,” said Ambiga.

Civil society leaders had also raised issues such as the RM2.6 billion deposited in Najib’s personal bank accounts, attack on human rights, selective prosecution and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

The TPPA is the centrepiece of Obama’s “pivot to Asia” foreign policy in which he has sought to counter China’s growing political, economic and military strength by building economic and security alliances around the Pacific rim.

Dato’ Ambiga said Obama had assured them that the US ties with nations accused of abuses did not mean that his country was not concerned over the various issues raised against such governments.

“We raised what you would expect us to raise, which would be the corruption, 1MDB, TPPA, the arrests of civil society members…” Ambiga was reported as saying. “Since the last time he came here, things have got worse. We made that very clear… ” she said, according to the report.