On April 26, 2014 US President Barack Obama embarked on a historic three-day visit to Malaysia. This was the first time a sitting US president had visited since President Lyndon B Johnson’s trip in 1966, and thus there was great excitement. Malaysia and the US have had a long and fruitful relationship, and this was clearly evident by the mutual respect and understanding between President Obama and Prime Minister Najib Razak. Almost 50 years is perhaps too long a gap between visits, as there are obvious and necessary political, economic and cultural ties that must continually be upheld.
Malaysia has become a pivotal state in the Obama administration’s goal to strengthen ties with the strategically important South-east Asian region. This was a clear message throughout the visit, which culminated in the two leaders elevating US-Malaysia relations through a timely Comprehensive Partnership, given that Malaysia will assume ASEAN chairmanship in 2015.
According to the leaders’ joint address, under the Comprehensive Partnership both countries commit to further strengthening dialogue in key areas, including political and diplomatic cooperation; trade and investment; education and people-to-people ties; security and defence cooperation; and collaboration in the fields of environment, science and technology, and energy. As trade partners, there was a strong base to build on during the visit, as current bilateral trade amounts to $40bn annually and the US was the largest source of foreign investment in Malaysia in 2013. Such successful collaboration will only be strengthened by the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade initiative.
Both leaders have also emphasised a strong commitment towards youth empowerment, particularly in promoting entrepreneurship, environmental protection, education and civic participation in Malaysia and South-east Asia as a whole. This would be led by programmes that were launched during the visit, such as the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre and the Young South-east Asian Leaders Initiative, in which President Obama has been personally involved.
Sustainable energy initiatives were also high on the agenda as Prime Minister Najib sought support from his US counterpart to build Malaysian knowledge on green technology. US assistance was instrumental in developing Malaysia’s newly announced green technology strategy and clean energy cooperation under the US-Asia Pacific Comprehensive Energy Partnership.
Prior to this historical and hugely successful visit, the MAF was formed by a group of individuals from the US and Malaysia. The MAF is a non-profit, bi-national organisation chartered in Washington, DC, that is dedicated to enhancing mutual understanding between the Malaysian and American people. Inaugurated in October 2013, the MAF presently has a board of directors comprising 17 Malaysian and American members and is co-chaired by Munir Majid and James Keith, the former US ambassador to Malaysia.
Following this successful visit, the MAF looks forward to embarking on activities and programmes that are aimed at bringing Malaysians and Americans closer and helping them understand one another better. This would involve cultural activities and programmes that expose both peoples to the other’s thinking and way of life. As indicated by both leaders during the visit, the future of US-Malaysia relations lies with the young, and in this regard the MAF proposes to develop educational exchange programmes and create opportunities for young entrepreneurs. The MAF would also initiate programmes to promote education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in line with both leaders’ recognition that the future lies in technology and knowledge industries.
Finally, it is imperative that both countries understand the need for peace to achieve shared prosperity. Such an understanding forms the foundation of all the good that promises to come from closer ties between our countries. The MAF is committed to building on the goodwill generated by this historic visit to fully realise the potential of US-Malaysia relations for the mutual benefit and continued development of both countries.
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