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Asia's Game of Thrones
Malaysian PM Calls for Military Collaboration with China

Malaysia looks forward to working with China’s military to fight extremism and criminality, Prime Minister Najib Razak’s office said on Wednesday. The New Straits Times:

Prime Minister’s Office said in response to the dynamic security challenges in the Asia Pacific region such as the threat of Daesh and food security, other areas of defence and military practical cooperation, such as exchange of intelligence and the formation of a secured communication link, may be further explored.

“Thus, Malaysia is ready to discuss further possibilities of joint military collaboration to tackle the threats of extremism, terrorism, kidnappings and other criminality,” it said. It said that Malaysia is confident that through constructive joint dialogue between ASEAN countries and China, all parties will achieve a mutually beneficial long-term solution with respect to the South China Sea for the stability and prosperity of the region.

At the meeting, Najib also expressed his appreciation of President Xi’s One Belt, One Road strategy and its importance in creating economic and cultural integration.

Najib’s comments undermine what had looked like Malaysia’s new more confrontational stance towards China. But in the big picture, they are not all that surprising: Malaysia tries to balance its relationships with Beijing and Washington. Last fall, Malaysia conducted large joint military exercises with China and the two countries have extensive economic ties. But more recently, Kuala Lumpur has worked to increase collaboration with Australia and the United States in an effort to keep shipping lanes open in the South China Sea. That led some observers to suspect that Najib was leaning toward Washington.

These latest comments are a reminder that the story in Malaysia isn’t ever so simple.

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