America has a worthwhile ally in Malaysia

America has a worthwhile ally in Malaysia

BY the time you read this, President Barack Obama would have already been in the country for several hours.

He would have met Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, been accorded a state welcome at Parliament and had dinner with Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah at Istana Negara.

These are all required functions for a visiting head of state or government, especially one as important, whether you want to admit it or not, as the president of the United States (or Potus).

And, Potus is an important man (or woman, perhaps, in the near future), whether you like it or not. American presidents have long shaped world history.

A quick look at recent history will tell you this, even if you start only as far back as World War 2 (WW2).

Franklin D. Roosevelt, even before America's entry into the last great war, helped the United Kingdom (and, indirectly, France and the rest of Nazi-occupied Europe) by sending war materials to the British isles.

His successor, Harry Truman, ushered in the nuclear age by unleashing two atomic bombs on Japan -- in Hiroshima and then Nagasaki. Whether justified or not, the world has since then been terrified of being totally decimated by ever more powerful nuclear weapons.

Since the end of WW2, US presidents have gotten their country involved in all sorts of conflicts. They have fought for democracy against communism in East and Southeast Asia (Korea and Vietnam) and threatened retaliation against it in Europe (Russia) and the Caribbean (Russia again, but this time in Cuba). They have fought against warlords and despots in a whole host of countries.

Whether one believes this is for the "good of the world" or whether it was for America's own good can probably only be answered by two beings -- the Potus, who approved such actions, and God Himself.

Whatever the reason, though, there can be no denying that American presidents have the power and ability to shape world history.

It speaks volumes, then, that Obama has chosen to visit this tiny and "insignificant" (because not many Americans have actually heard of Malaysia -- at least, before MH370) Southeast Asian nation, the first Potus since Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s and only the second, to visit Malaysia.

Sure, he visited Japan and South Korea, and will, tomorrow, fly to the Philippines. But Japan and South Korea are Asian giants and our Southeast Asian neighbour is a former "colony", one which is still close to the US.

Obama's visit speaks well of the relationship between the US and Malaysia. It speaks well of Malaysia's standing within the region and the world.

Obama's visit indicates that he realises that Malaysia is an ally worth having. The country is a member of the Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation and a well-respected one at that.

Malaysia is a country which, though Muslim-majority, is a multiracial, multicultural and multi-religious society that advocates moderation and eschews extremism. And, its leader is the driving force behind the Global Movement of Moderates.

And, with the Cold War over, and the fight for America focused on the new enemy, terrorism, Malaysia is also a valuable partner for the US, with Kuala Lumpur playing host to the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Counter-Terrorism (SEARCCT).

The centre has held training programmes, seminars and talks for hundreds of people, with many of the programmes done in cooperation with counter-terrorism experts from the US.

The US also values Malaysia's participation in United Nations' peacekeeping missions, many of which are led by America. Malaysia's close relationship with world superpower China also bodes well for US-Malaysia relations.

Washington has long denied that its renewed focus on Asia is a measure to stop the ever-rising influence of Beijing.

Rather, it has said, the relationship between Malaysia, and Asean as a grouping, helps the US with its engagements with China.

One suspects, though, that this may only partly be true. China's meteoric rise may soon make it the most powerful nation in the world. Therefore, it would not be farfetched to imagine that America's preoccupation with Asia and Asean may be with an eye towards delaying, if not altogether stopping, China's rise to domination.

In an economic sense, Malaysia's own rise, with the 2020 target of developed nation status well on target, makes it an ever more important partner to the US.

It is true that Malaysia is only the 25th biggest trading partner for the US, but this small Southeast Asian nation is still important nonetheless. Between 2003 and last year, Malaysia exported US$247.5 billion (RM808 billion) worth of products to the US, while importing US$173.3 billion.

Americans have invested more than US$13 billion in Malaysia, with American companies now not only manufacturing here but also establishing research and development facilities using largely Malaysian talent.

Obama's visit, therefore, is one that is a top priority for him as well as his country, and this is true for a number of reasons. Not too shabby, it must be said, for a 57-year-old nation the size of New Mexico.

Leslie Andres is NST news editor.

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