Friday, 22 September 2017

Do Lee and Xi see eye-to-eye?

Singaporean leader's meeting with Chinese counterpart aimed to normalize ties and align interests but its not clear the impromptu visit accomplished either


Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s just concluded three-day official visit to China came amid recent uneasy ties on strategic and sovereign issues. It’s not immediately clear that Lee’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, despite the diplomatic niceties and assurances, necessarily put relations back on a cordial track.

Lee’s high-profile meetings with Xi, Premier Li Keqiang and other top officials signaled a renewed effort to reaffirm the two sides’ extensive and substantive relations after hitting a new nadir last year. The premier’s visit came ahead of preparations for China’s pivotal 19th Party Congress, where new leaders and policy directions will be decided.

Lee described his meetings as “warm” and that bilateral relations were “more than stable.” He said Chinese leaders were “keen on improving relations” and saw a “basic alignment” of the two sides’ interests and objectives. He also said Singapore aims to leverage the two countries’ “cultural affinity.”

Lee took the unexpected step of meeting anti-graft tsar Wang Qishan, who does not regularly host foreign leaders. Wang has overseen Xi’s sweeping anti-corruption campaign, which has included restrictions on capital flows overseas. It’s unclear what role, if any, Singapore has played in Beijing’s clampdown on illicit cash outflows.

Read the full story at the Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times specialising on current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Home and away, Najib has a China dilemma

While the Malaysian leader relies on Beijing for economic succor, he's still viewed skeptically by his country's ethnic Chinese voting bloc with tight polls on the horizon


Prime Minister Najib Razak addressed Malaysia’s Chinese community at a well-attended gathering last week to urge support for his Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition government ahead of new national polls.

The leader called for stronger Chinese representation in his United Malays National Organization-led (UMNO) government and doubled down on promises of delivering prosperity and quality education across all of the country’s ethnic groups.

“If the Chinese voice is stronger in BN, then you are able to shape the policies and possibilities of this government even better and even stronger,” Najib said. “Without peace in the country, the Chinese will be the first to be targeted and that is why we are a moderate government committed to peace and mutual harmony.”

While Najib placed emphasis on Malaysia as a multiracial nation and struck an overall moderate tone, others interpreted his remark as a fear-mongering veiled threat. Opposition parliamentarian Liew Chin Tong accused the premier of trying to win votes by “singling out the ethnic Chinese,” a move he said would actually undermine support for his government.

Read the full story at the Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times specialising on current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Najib-Trump meet puts pragmatism before controversy

The Malaysian leader's vow to purchase US-made airplanes and invest in US infrastructure aimed to head off possible punitive trade measures


Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak began a three-day visit to Washington on Tuesday with a White House visit aimed at bolstering bilateral ties with the Trump administration.

US Department of Justice-led court cases into the US dealings of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state fund created and until recently overseen by Najib had threatened to cast a cloud over the meeting, but the two leaders focused on areas in which they could agree.

Prior to the meeting, Najib’s first to the White House since assuming the premiership in 2009, the Malaysian leader said he would press for bilateral trade negotiations in response to Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a once US-led multilateral trade pact that would have included Malaysia and several other Pacific Rim nations.

The two sides started talks towards a possible bilateral trade pact in 2006, but halted those negotiations after Malaysia decided to join TPP. Malaysia has run an uninterrupted trade surplus with the US since 1990.

Read the full story at the Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times specialising on current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Najib-Trump meeting under the spotlight

Malaysia's embattled premier will seek to reset bilateral relations with America's leader while avoiding any commitments that may irk his financial patrons in Beijing


Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, long embroiled in a multi-billion-dollar money laundering scandal now under investigation in at least six countries, hopes to have cause to rejoice after meeting with US President Donald Trump.

On September 12, Najib will be the second Southeast Asian leader to visit Trump’s White House, a highly anticipated meeting that could reset bilateral relations after a diplomatic downturn driven largely by the still unfolding 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.

The US Department of Justice has filed dozens of civil lawsuits seeking to seize dozens of US-based properties and other assets tied to 1MDB, a state fund Najib created and until recently oversaw. The charges claim Malaysian officials and their associates conspired to fraudulently divert US$1.7 billion from 1MDB to purchase assets in America.

Media reports have widely speculated that Najib is the unnamed “Malaysian Official 1” mentioned in the charge sheet. US investigators believe more than US$3.5 billion was illicitly siphoned from the state fund. The DoJ recently asked to stay its civil proceedings to avoid prejudicing an ongoing US government criminal investigation into the charges.

Read the full story at the Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times specialising on current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.