Experts: Najib-Trump meeting will be mutually beneficial

This article is more than 12 months old

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is going on a three-day visit to the US, starting tomorrow - a controversial trip because it comes as the US Justice Department continues a probe into the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.

But analysts have said the visit, which will include a meeting with US President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House, will be mutually beneficial.

The Trump administration counts Malaysia as an important partner as it grapples with Islamic militancy, North Korea's nuclear adventurism and China's growing influence.

S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies senior fellow Johan Saravanamuttu told The Straits Times: "Mr Najib is the one desperate for the visit, not Mr Trump.

"But from a US foreign policy perspective, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, North Korea and China are clearly on Mr Trump's mind, and Malaysia is important, if not crucial, on such matters."

Trade, however, is likely to take centre stage in talks as Malaysia is one of 16 countries that the Trump administration has targeted for scrutiny because of their large trade surpluses with the US.

In July, the US and Malaysian officials agreed to work together to "address outstanding issues" on the U$25 billion (S$33.5 billion) deficit.

Mr Najib said on Friday: "I would like to see this as a two-way, mutually beneficial partnership with the United States. It will not be one-way."

He added that Malaysia was open to a bilateral trade deal with its second-biggest foreign investor, after the US pulled out of the expansive Trans-Pacific Partnership in January.

Mr Murray Hiebert, senior adviser and deputy director of the South-east Asia Programme at US think-tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies, told ST: "Mr Najib may well want to assure Mr Trump that Malaysia is exploring ways to reduce the deficit and buy more American products."

Malaysia's The New Straits Times quoted Malaysian Ambassador to the US Zulhasnan Rafique as saying that Mr Najib would seek Washington's support to resolve the Rohingya crisis - an issue important to his ruling Umno party.

Mr Najib's trip comes a month after the Justice Department said its civil suit to seize assets worth US$1.7 billion in the 1MDB probe had been converted into a criminal investigation, putting more pressure on him at home.

Mr Trump has been criticised by some in the US media for inviting Mr Najib.

"Engulfed by allegations (Mr Najib) pilfered billions from his own country's sovereign wealth fund, he craves international legitimacy," said an opinion piece in The Washington Post last week.

It added that the visit was "meant to show the scandal is not harming (Mr Najib's) world standing".


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