President Barack Obama wrapped up his two trip to Malaysia. President Obama was the first sitting president in nearly a half century to visit the sleepy South East Asian nation. While much of Obama’s message was one of cooperation and forging stronger ties, the President did use the opportunity to stress the importance of human rights.
Human rights take center stage
President Obama pressed the Malaysian government to improve its human rights record. While Malaysia has one of the strong human rights records in South East Asia, race relations remain high and the government often favors ethnic Malays over people from other minorities.
The President noted that there were some severe restrictions on political freedoms. Most of Obama’s words were rather vague, still the country has a history of restricting political freedoms. Protests are sometimes met with force, while the mainstream media in the country is highly censored.
The President also addressed the Young South East Asian leaders group at the University of Malaya. The group was launched by President Obama as a way to begin to build relations across the region. Obama urged the youth to overcome generational challenges and to continue to work towards a better future.
Obama also praised government, refused to meet opposition
While the President did lightly chastise the government on some issues, Obama’s words fell far short of an incitement for violence. The President also praised Prime Minister Najib for being a reformer and noted how far the country has come.
At the same time, the President declined to meet with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. Instead, the President directed his National Security advisor Susan Rice to meet with Anwar. The details of their meeting have not been released. Obama did, however, express concerns over the sodomy charges Anwar is currently facing.
Anwar nearly toppled the sitting government in the last election and tensions have been rising. With the United States already tied up in so many political conflicts and confrontations around the world, the American government is likely looking to get itself put in the middle of yet another battle.
Business deals also signed
Both Prime Minister Najib and President Obama were on hand to witness the signing of several trade deals, totaling nearly $2 billion dollars. Obama praised the deals as being beneficial for both countries and stated that they could lead to jobs in places like Ohio and North Carolina.
Both Malaysia and the United States are members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will encourage free trade across the region. Some critics in the United States have wondered, however, if the trade deal will simply result in the exporting of more jobs.