U.S. President Barack Obama’s meeting Friday with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak stands out on a long list of his one-on-one talks with world leaders this week because the premier is under fire over a multi-million dollar funding scandal.
Obama could hardly skip a meeting with Najib, who is hosting Obama at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit, but it might not be a photo op the White House touts. While the two played golf in Hawaii last year, Najib now faces pressure to explain how 2.6 billion ringgit ($607 million) ended up in his personal bank accounts in 2013, and has cracked down on dissenters while using sedition laws to detain media executives.
Even as the two held a 45-minute meeting and posed for the cameras, Obama showed concern from the start of his three-day trip about what’s been going on in Malaysia. At his first appointment — a town hall event at a university — a relaxed, shirt-sleeved Obama told young leaders from the 10 Asean countries that he’d raise the issue of government transparency and press freedom with Najib.
“I was going to do it anyway, but now that I hear it from you, I’m definitely going to do it,” he told the audience. During the town hall he addressed issues ranging from climate change to inequality, U.S. political gridlock and the recent elections in Myanmar.
In his remarks after meeting Obama, Najib said Malaysia is “taking into account some of” the president’s views. “Malaysia is committed to reforms,” Najib said. “And we are committed to ensuring at the same time there is peace and stability.” The two also discussed Islamic State and terrorism, tensions in the disputed South China Sea and human trafficking.
Obama said the leaders talked about the importance of civil society — in Malaysia and the region more broadly. They discussed “how we can promote those values that will encourage continued development and opportunity and prosperity,” Obama said. “I very much appreciate this conversation.”
Najib has rarely answered questions from the media since the funding scandal broke in July, when the Wall Street Journal reported that about $700 million may have moved through government agencies and state-linked companies to his private accounts. Najib has denied taking money for personal gain.
Opposition lawmakers and some in Najib’s own party have asked questions over the funds, which reached his accounts before the 2013 general election. Najib has acknowledged the money but said it was political donations from the Middle East, an initial conclusion also reached by the anti-corruption commission.
The accounts have since been closed. The receipt of political funds was to meet the needs of the party and the community and wasn’t a new practice, the official Bernama news agency has said, citing Najib.
The scandal has fueled political tensions with Najib firing his deputy in July, while thousands of anti-government protesters rallied in the capital in August. The imbroglio has unnerved foreign investors in Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy, contributing to a sell-off last quarter in Malaysian markets.
Malaysia is one of the 12 nations in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, which has been a key element of Obama’s security and economic rebalance to Asia. The U.S. has also been working with Malaysia on countering terrorism, the importance of which was highlighted by last week’s attacks in Paris and Friday’s hostage-taking in Mali.
“Malaysia like Indonesia are majority Muslim countries that represent tolerance and peace,” Obama said. “Malaysia’s willingness to host a center that uses all the tools of social media with scholars and clerics to counter” extremism is important, he said.
“Malaysia is part of the coalition to fight ISIL and has been particularly helpful on issues like countering the destructive and perverse narrative that’s developed.”
The Southeast Asian nation has arrested dozens of suspects who authorities said were plotting attacks in the country or linked to Islamic State. Some have been arrested upon their return from Syria.
Earlier this week Najib said he was “shocked and sickened” by the murder of Malaysian engineer Bernard Then, who was beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf Islamic militant group in the southern Philippines. Then was the first Malaysian hostage to be beheaded by the group.
China and EU Seek Partnership: Xi Jinping Proposes Key Trade Alliance
Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed his desire for China and the European Union (EU) to become key trade partners and foster trust in supply chains, during a meeting with EU leaders in Beijing.
The talks marked the first in-person summit between the two sides in four years and addressed a range of economic concerns, including data flows and market access.
Xi emphasized China’s commitment to high-quality development and opening up, positioning the EU as a crucial partner in economic and trade cooperation.
He envisioned the EU as a trusted collaborator in industrial and supply chain cooperation, aiming for mutual benefits and win-win results.
The summit delved into longstanding issues, such as efforts by Europe to “de-risk” its supply chains and the EU’s anti-subsidies investigation into Chinese-made electric vehicles.
China criticized the investigation, urging the EU to avoid using it for “trade protectionism.”
Xi called for the elimination of interference between China and the EU, a statement likely directed at the United States, which has taken actions, including enlisting the Netherlands, to curb China’s development of high-end semiconductors.
The EU leaders, Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, described their conversation with Xi as “good and candid.”
They discussed the main challenges amid increasing geopolitical frictions, emphasizing a commitment to balanced trade relations and pledging to enhance people-to-people exchanges.
During the meeting, Italy formally informed China of its exit from the Belt and Road Initiative, highlighting ongoing strains between the EU and China.
Xi discussed Belt and Road with EU leaders, expressing a willingness to connect it with the EU’s Global Gateway infrastructure plan.
However, deep issues remain, including Russia’s war in Ukraine, trade imbalances, and Chinese overcapacity exported to Europe.
Jens Eskelund, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, stressed the need to address these issues to foster a positive relationship between Beijing and Brussels.
UAE Commits $30 Billion as COP28 Climate Talks Kick Off in Dubai
Nigeria Eyes BRICS Membership within Two Years as Foreign Minister Emphasizes Strategic Alignment
In a strategic move towards global economic collaboration, Nigeria is aspiring to join the BRICS group of nations within the next two years.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yusuf Tuggar, affirmed that Nigeria is open to aligning itself with groups that demonstrate good intentions, well-meaning goals, and clearly defined objectives.
Tuggar stated, “Nigeria has come of age to decide for itself who her partners should be and where they should be; being multiple aligned is in our best interest.”
He emphasized the need for Nigeria to be part of influential groups like BRICS and the G-20, citing criteria such as population and economy size that position Nigeria as a natural candidate.
BRICS, comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, stands as a formidable bloc of emerging market powers.
In a recent move to expand its influence, BRICS invited six additional nations, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Argentina, Ethiopia, and the United Arab Emirates, to join the group.
Nigeria, as Africa’s largest economy, has been absent from the BRICS alliance, prompting discussions on the potential economic and political advantages the bloc could offer the country.
Analysts have noted that BRICS membership could provide Nigeria with significant leverage on the global stage.
Vice President Kashim Shettima clarified that Nigeria did not apply for BRICS membership after the bloc’s announcement of new members in August.
Shettima emphasized the principled approach of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, highlighting a commitment to consensus building in decisions related to international partnerships.
As Nigeria eyes BRICS membership, the move is seen as a strategic step towards enhancing its global economic and diplomatic influence.
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