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Malaysia, US pledge closer collaboration in Asia Pacific

Bilateral talks focus on trade, defense procurement, security cooperation

U.S. President Donald Trump welcomes Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak of Malaysia to the White House on Sept. 12. (Getty Images)

KUALA LUMPUR -- Malaysia and the U.S. have agreed to strengthen ties through trade and security cooperation in the Asia Pacific region.  

In a joint statement issued Wednesday, a day after a bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Najib Razak and President Donald Trump, both countries vowed to address trade imbalances through investment, with Malaysia buying more U.S.-made products, including $60 million of additional defense procurement.

The purchase is part of an ongoing military partnership in the "priority areas" of maritime security and counterterrorism. The U.S. will continue to assist Malaysia in developing its maritime capabilities in surveillance, communications and information-sharing.

Piracy and foreign vessels operating illegally in waters around Malaysia are common occurrences. Recently, the hijacking of a Thai oil tanker off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia was thwarted by the authorities. 

The U.S. is the second largest investor in Malaysia, but Kuala Lumpur enjoyed a trade surplus of 24.5 billion ringgit ($6 billion) in 2016. Exports from Malaysia include semiconductor devices, transport equipment and petroleum products.

Malaysia Airlines signed a memorandum of understanding with Boeing on Tuesday for the purchase of eight 787-9 Dreamliner long-range passenger jets and options for an additional eight smaller 737 MAX jets worth up to $4 billion.

The deal is a revised version of a previous order for 25 Boeing 737 MAX jets made last year. The national flag carrier is seeking to replace aircraft in its aging fleet under a restructuring plan.

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, second from left, at the White House on Sept. 12.   © AP

On regional security, Malaysia promised to review its diplomatic relations and business links with North Korea in light of the persistent threat posed by Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile tests. Malaysia had recalled all its diplomats from Pyongyang and expelled North Korea's ambassador in Kuala Lumpur following disputes over the killing in February of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The scale of Malaysia's trade with North Korea is negligible, mostly involving the export of palm oil products. North Korea, which had close to 1,000 workers in Malaysia at one point, mainly in construction and coal mining, but most, if not, all were expelled following the diplomatic row. 

A diplomatic source said Malaysia was disappointed with Pyongyang for failing to recognize its efforts to serve as a diplomatic bridge between the reclusive regime and the rest of the world.

Without mentioning China, both Malaysia and the U.S. called on all parties to safeguard freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea in accordance with international law.

China has been building military bases on reclaimed land in the area as it claims a large swathe of the South China Sea, causing significant concern in many countries in the region.

Malaysia and the U.S. also agreed to counter the growing threat of Islamic militants in Southeast Asia and called for the government of Myanmar to end violence in Rakhine State affecting the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority. 

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