Pompeo expected to meet Dr M

BY TMR / Pic By BLOOMBERG

The US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo (picture) is expected to meet Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad tomorrow, enroute to the Asean ministerial meetings in Singapore.

Pompeo is also expected to meet other senior Malaysian officials. The meeting with Dr Mahathir is requested by the US as part of the latter’s effort to boost ties between Kuala Lumpur-Washington, especially on regional security.

Other areas of discussion include strengthening the comprehensive partnership and advancing common security and economic interests based on strongly shared democratic values, following the recent historic and peaceful government transition in Malaysia, according to the state department’s statement.

Pompeo is expected to arrive in Kuala Lumpur today. The expected meeting with Dr Mahathir comes after the shocking change of government, which saw the country ending Barisan Nasional’s rule since independence.

Malaysia and the US have strong ties, but had been rocky at times especially during Dr Mahathir first spell as the country’s PM. Dr Mahathir had been critical of some of the US foreign policies especially the war on Iraq, issues related to Palestine, nuclear proliferation and developments of third world nations.

But China’s growing influence in the region — politically and economically — and Malaysia’s strategic position including as a major trading partner with Washington, makes Putrajaya a key component in the US foreign policy mapping. Regional security, especially with Beijing’s claims of a large part of the South China Sea, would be high on the agenda as Malaysia also claims some part of the disputed areas.

The US and China’s military had a few close calls in the region as Washington wants to assert its influence and test Beijing’s resolve over navigation freedom. Dr Mahathir is also expected to visit Beijing this month.

Besides regional security, trade between both countries is also key as Malaysia is a trading nation. The US has been a key foreign direct investor since the 1970s, especially in the high-tech and manufacturing sectors.

Last year, total trade of goods between the two nations reached US$50.2 billion (RM203.83 billion) in favour of Malaysia. Total trades for the first five months reached US$21.6 billion, according to the US Trade Census Bureau.

The US was also among the country’s top four investing nations besides Japan, Germany and Singapore last year.

Since Pakatan Harapan’s shocking victory, interest by US companies towards Malaysia had also increased in expectation Putrajaya will favour other countries besides China. The former government was seen to be more friendly to deals with China. — TMR