'Selamat Datang' Mr Obama, from all Malaysians

'Selamat Datang' Mr Obama, from all Malaysians
Children of Tadika Seni holding Malaysian and American flags in Kuala Lumpur to welcome US President Barack Obama.

When Air Force One lands at the RMAF base in Subang this afternoon, it will truly be a historic moment for both the United States and Malaysia.

US President Barack Obama's trip, originally scheduled for October last year, will be the first by a sitting US President since 1966 when President Lyndon B. Johnson landed at the same airport on Oct 30.

Interestingly, in his short address at the airport upon arrival, Johnson said: "I feel that I know you because Malaysia, like the United States, is a federation of states which were once colonies of Great Britain … and because Malaysia is, like the United States, a nation of many diverse peoples, different religions and different cultures. Here, as in America, you are working to reduce racial tensions so that all men may live in peace with one another."

Indeed. It was precisely because of this commitment to live together in harmony that we were able to free ourselves from the shackles of colonialism to join the community of free and independent nations.

Much has changed over the years for both countries.

Obama will see a very vibrant Malaysia with the physical infrastructure that rivals that of the developed West.

Like Johnson, he will rejoice in our rich diversity and how Malaysia has always been able to showcase itself as a living, thriving role model founded on the experience of moderation among the people of various races, languages and religions.

But there is still much we can learn from each other in managing such diverse societies, which can also be fragile in certain circumstances.

Obama was barely five years old, and the civil rights movement in the United States was at its peak back then. Few could have imagined then that the day would come when the United States would send an African-American into the White House.

Our country, in its unique way, can claim to be ahead of the United States in this respect.

We embraced democracy upon Independence in 1957 and all the citizens of different races could already vote and stand for elections from day one.

In a globally-connected world, our governments and our people already know much about one another. But the significance of this visit, when Obama will step on Malaysian soil for the first time, cannot be underplayed.

There are many shared objectives that will be enhanced. The President and our Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak have an excellent personal and working relationship.

And Obama is definitely very popular in Malaysia.

Selamat Datang, Mr President.

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