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Barack Obama visits Malaysia with economy and security on agenda

• US president to hold talks with prime minister Najib Razak
• Obama will not meet opposition leader

barack obama malaysia
King Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah, second left, addresses President Barack Obama at a state dinner on Sunday. Photograph: Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty Images

Opening the first visit to Malaysia by a US president in nearly half a century, Barack Obama looked ahead Saturday to economic and security talks with the prime minister, Najib Razak, who leads a south-east Asian nation with an important role in Obama’s efforts to forge deeper ties with the region.

Stepping on to a red carpet at the Royal Malaysian Air Base, Obama was whisked by limousine to Kuala Lumpur’s Parliament Square, where a 21-gun salute rang out as Malaysia’s king and prime minister greeted Obama under muggy skies and a yellow awning. A military band played the US and Malaysian national anthems twice and Obama inspected an elaborate honour guard in crisp green and white before the arrival ceremony came to a close.

Obama’s next stop was to be the Istana Negara, the National Palace, for an audience with Malaysia’s royal family before he takes his seat later Saturday at a state dinner in his honour.

During the two-day visit, which follows stops in Japan and South Korea, Obama will also meet with citizen leaders and hold a town hall-style forum with young leaders from across the region. But Obama will not meet a prominent Malaysian opposition leader despite appeals from human rights groups.

Obama, in a written interview with the Malaysian newspaper The Star, said his main message is that the US welcomes its growing contributions to security and prosperity in the region. “I see my visit as an opportunity to formalise a comprehensive partnership, and lay the foundation for even closer ties for years to come,” Obama said ahead of his visit, the first by a US president since Lyndon B Johnson came here in 1966.

Trade, defence and maritime security are among the issues Obama and Najib were expected to discuss during talks scheduled for Sunday. Malaysia is one of a dozen countries involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade negotiations, a top priority for Obama’s global economic agenda.

Last month’s disappearance of a commercial airliner carrying 239 people put Malaysia in the international spotlight as Obama was preparing to head to the region. The US is assisting in the huge search effort. Officials are widening the search area in a remote part of the ocean where the jet may have crashed. In a sign of the ongoing agony, about 50 relatives of missing Chinese passengers continue a sit-in protest outside the Malaysian embassy in Beijing, demanding answers.

Absent from Obama’s itinerary in Malaysia: a meeting with the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who presents the most potent political threat to Najib amid a decline in Najib’s popular support over the past two elections.

The US spurned calls from human rights groups for the president himself to meet the 66-year-old former deputy prime minister, but was instead sending Susan Rice, his national security adviser and former UN ambassador, to meet with him.

Anwar was recently convicted for the second time on sodomy charges that the US and international human rights groups have claimed are politically motivated. Anwar is appealing, and could be forced to give up his seat in parliament and go to prison if he loses.

Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters travelling with Obama that the president typically does not meet with opposition leaders during foreign visits, but felt the issue was important enough to dispatch Rice instead. Obama and other top officials have raised Anwar’s case in past meetings with Malaysian officials, Rhodes added.

Halfway through the eight-day, four-country trip, Obama has started showing signs of weariness from the mileage and the 12-hour time shift from Washington while travelling in Asia. He normally jogs up the stairs to Air Force One, but on Saturday slowed to a walk instead.

Before departing Seoul on Saturday, Obama addressed US troops stationed in South Korea and received a military briefing focused on North Korea. Obama will also visit the Philippines before returning to Washington next week.

February 25, 2010
Malaysian Economy – The worst is yet to come


The latest declaration by the Prime Minister that “the worst is over” when the country’s GDP grew at 4.5% in the last quarter of 2009 is not only premature but irresponsible.

It is clear that the supposedly stronger growth was due to the massive pump priming by the government over the last year. Propping up the sagging economy is at best a stop gap measure. Pump priming by definition cannot be permanent. I am deeply concerned that the continuous reliance on massive spending will take us down the road to economic serfdom. And that may not be too distant in the future.

Since 1998, the Barisan Nasional government has implemented only one economic policy i.e. increasing public expenditure (most of the time unnecessarily through massive projects that were subjected to leakages and inflated costs) to make up for the dramatic decrease in private spending.

The data on private investment trending since 1991 should serve as a reminder of the path to economic damnation that BN has dragged us into. While private investments grew at the compound annual growth rate of 16.2% between 1991 and 1997, this has dropped severely to a marginal growth of 1% between 1998 and 2008.

Translating this into private investments in real terms, between 2005 and 2008, private investments into our economy stagnated at RM20.3 billion each year. This is even lower than the private investments figure in 1991, nearly 20 years ago.

While Barisan Nasional remains clueless about rejuvenating the economy for the long term, private investments have plunged from the pre-1997 days when it constituted 40% of the gross domestic products (in real terms), to an average of 28% in the last decade.

That is why Pakatan Rakyat will not jump too quickly to declare that the economy has recovered, because there are still structural problems with the economy that have to be addressed urgently if we do not want to continue to fall behind.

Trumpeting a 5% growth for 2010 is disingenuous at best. What the Prime Minister does not say to the people is that even if our economy grows by 5%, Malaysia will continue to fall behind Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines and even Vietnam in 2010.

The latest economic forecast by IMF published in October 2009 shows that in 2010, Malaysia is expected to perform the worst among all these countries even as the world economy shows signs of recovery. Vietnam is expected to double our growth rate while the rest will outpace Malaysia by an average of 50%.

The Barisan Nasional government must own up to the fact that our economy is the way it is because of the years of mismanagement and corruption perpetrated by the powers that be.

The future wealth of our country can only be guaranteed by a government that is accountable to the people where transparency and good governance are absolutely essential.

That is why Pakatan Rakyat will remain relentless in the pursuit to offer the people an efficiently managed economy that will sustain the livelihood of future generations.

Parliamentary Opposition Leader


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