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Washington's Malaysia Malaise
Malaysia Tilts Toward China

Malaysia will buy ten navy vessels from China in the country’s first major defense deal with China. All signs suggest that the deal is not politically neutral. Rather, Malaysia is rebuking the U.S. for DOJ lawsuits on Malaysian money laundering, while thanking China for standing by Malaysia. Reuters:

Malaysia could buy up to 10 of the littoral mission ships at a cost of approximately 300 million ringgit ($71.43 million) each, said Lam Choong Wah, senior fellow at REFSA, a Malaysia research institute. […]

“The truth is we could have bought these from a number of countries. But China is the only country that has provided political support for Malaysia during the 1MDB scandal. This is payback for that political support.”

The “political support” in question is the $2.3 billion deal where China agreed to purchase assets of the troubled Malaysian state fund 1MDB. The 1MDB fund was the center of scandal when investigations turned up that it had misappropriated $3.5 billion—much of it ending up in the pockets of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, according to U.S. Department of Justice lawsuits filed in July.

The DOJ lawsuits have strained U.S.-Malaysian relations, while China has seized its opportunity to play the “good neighbor” role. The Malaysia episode is a textbook example of Chinese diplomacy, combining a non-judgmental stance toward the internal affairs of other countries with a charm offensive and robust investment. When Malaysia was rocked by international scandal and economic turmoil over 1MDB, China offered Malaysia a lifeline. Now, Malaysia is beginning to repay the favor.

China made a similar play in the Philippines, helping to sponsor President Duterte’s drug crackdown even as the U.S. condemned it. That gambit cannot fully explain Duterte’s dramatic pivot to China, but it certainly sweetened the deal for him.

Malaysia’s leadership seems to be tilting Beijing’s way as well, albeit more subtly. Last week, Malaysia scrapped a project to develop an amphibious corps alongside U.S. Marines. Next week, Najib is travelling to Beijing with a delegation of business leaders, carrying promises to bring China-Malaysia ties to “new highs.” The trip is likely to bring even more Chinese investment into Malaysia, while Washington watches with unease.

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  • Observe&Report

    One corrupt regime helping out another. Go figure.

    • Dhako

      That is a sore loser argument, who self-preeningly hop on bogus moral high-horse, when he has been outsmarted by the newest kid in the block. Also, spare us the glib talk about corruption, given the fact that in America they even legalized a corrupt politics in the form of campaign contribution, as Wikileaks have shown us about the affairs of Madame Clinton’s brazen pay-to-play money-hoarding enterprise at the Clinton foundation. So, if I were you I would go easy on the casting stones on others when you know for a fact the stinking corrupt politics of the US at this juncture of time.

      • Observe&Report

        Nice try. According to Transparency International’s corruption perception index (with 1st place being least corrupt and last place most corrupt), the United States ranks 16th, Malaysia ranks 54th, and China ranks 83rd.

        So spare me the whataboutery.

        • J Enigma32

          A US Deep State puppet (transparency international) says it, it must be true!

      • J Enigma32

        The PM of Malaysia is a lot cleaner than the dirty US Dept of (in)Justice.

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