WASHINGTON: Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak on Wednesday (Sep 13) hailed the longstanding United States-Malaysia partnership following his visit to the White House and talks with President Donald Trump on Tuesday (Sep 12).
"I want you to be fully aware why it is right that we build on the Comprehensive Partnership we forged in 2014," he said.
"We share your values on working towards a world that is secure; where nuclear threats are contained; where we come together to fight violent extremism; and where we face the future confident that trading with each other will enrich both our nations."
In his speech at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, Najib spoke of the increasingly close defence and security ties between Malaysia and the United States, and expressed his confidence that these would reach new heights over the coming years.
Addressing an audience of scholars, academics, policy-makers and government officials, he called for further cooperation on counter-terrorism measures, action to alleviate the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar, and resolving the dangerous tensions in the Korean peninsula, while also emphasising the commitment to democracy and free speech that the two countries share.
THREAT OF TERRORISM
Najib highlighted that the threat of terrorism was one that both the US and Malaysia faced.
He said: “Travelling to Washington DC on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks offered me a sobering reminder of that.
"There has, so far, been only one successful (Islamic State)-linked attack in Malaysia, but that has not been for want of trying. It is only thanks to the efforts of our law enforcement agencies that at least 13 major terrorist attacks have been thwarted since 2012.
“These people, both those who encourage others to go down the path of violence - and those that do so themselves, are our enemies just as much as they are your enemies. Indeed, by claiming their terrorism is Islamic in nature, these individuals blaspheme against our religion - something for which we simply cannot forgive them.
"I want to reiterate here, in your capital, that Malaysia is the United States’ firm ally in this battle. In this battle we fight as a proud partner in the US-led Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh, and through the strategic dialogue between our Ministry of Defence and the Pentagon.
"Malaysia will always stand shoulder-to-shoulder with America on this vital mission to eliminate a terror group whose acts sicken all of civilised humanity."
NORTH KOREA TENSIONS
On current tensions within Korean peninsula, Najib said: “President Trump and I discussed this at length yesterday, and Malaysia offers its full support and assistance in resolving the current very dangerous tension over North Korea.
"Malaysia has been consistent in pressing North Korea to fully comply with all its obligations under the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, and to return to the negotiating table, with a view to achieving the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula."
On the plight of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar, Najib said: “Many have said that the atrocities committed against them could be rightly described as constituting ethnic cleansing or genocide.
"I promised the Malaysian people that I would raise this with President Trump - and I did. I am glad to say that the president shares my concern, and that is why this heart-rending humanitarian crisis was included in our joint statement.
"While I cannot speak for exactly what the US Government plans to do, I can tell you that there is now a distinct possibility that they will also provide humanitarian assistance to these desperate victims of atrocities that the world simply cannot ignore.”
FREEDOM OF SPEECH
Concerning criticisms that have been directed at Malaysia by the country’s political opposition, and supplied to the American press, Najib said: “Malaysia has been a democracy ever since independence.
"We have the longest and most consistent record as a democracy in Southeast Asia. Elections are fiercely contested - which is shown by the fact that opposition parties have won state elections. They won five out of Malaysia’s 13 states in 2008, for instance."
He added: "Cabinet ministers and prominent politicians have lost their seats in elections. I myself only just retained my parliamentary constituency in 1999.
"There were particular reasons why the government was not popular at that time; but my point is that ours is a genuine democracy and no one is guaranteed election, no matter how high their position. It is the people who have the final say - which is how it should be in a democracy.”
He also reminded the audience that while there had been severe crackdowns on free speech and the independence of the judiciary during the rule of a former leader, his government takes a different approach.
“Ministers and state chief ministers from both sides of the political divide have been taken to court, which shows the impartiality of our judiciary," he said. "Malaysia’s democracy survived, and under my Government, it has been strengthened.
"We increased media freedom by scrapping restrictions on newspaper publishing licences. We reformed the Universities and University Colleges Act to allow undergraduates to participate in political activities.
"Large demonstrations, that would never have been allowed under the former leader, have taken place in Kuala Lumpur over the last few years.
"Why? Because we passed the Peaceful Assembly Act, for the first time enshrining in law the right to peaceful protest - which we recognise as being part of a democratic society.”
Questioning the opposition’s claim that free speech in Malaysia was under threat, Najib said: “Why, then, is it that you will find praise for opposition politicians in our national newspapers, and vigorous debate - including plenty of criticism of the government - on Malaysia’s web portals?”