In #Malaysia, President Obama presses for human rights and condemns #Mali attack
Kuala Lumpure,Malaysia ( Agencies + DIPLOMAT.SO) – U.S. President Barack Obama pressed for human-rights protections and government accountability in Malaysia, advocating for what he called basic shared values while not singling out specific issues in this country.
At a town hall event Friday before a meeting with Malaysia’s embattled prime minister, Mr. Obama didn’t directly refer to alleged human-rights abuses in Malaysia or the scandal enveloping a government investment fund that has drawn attention around the globe. But Mr. Obama said he never hesitates to broach tough subjects with fellow leaders.
The president later met privately with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, and said their conversation about the importance of civil society was “constructive.” The prime minister said he would take into account some of Mr. Obama’s “views and concerns.”
Mr. Obama, while speaking at an event organized by the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, said nations that encourage accountability and personal freedom have prospered over time. “Countries work best when everybody has a voice that can be respected and that the press is able to report on what is happening in current affairs and people can organize politically, peacefully to try to bring about change and that there’s transparency and accountability,” he said.
Mr. Obama acknowledged that the U.S. sometimes does business with countries “just because we have shared security interests or economic interests.” For example, the president said he meets with leaders such as Chinese President Xi Jinping, even though he might not agree with his counterpart’s approach to human rights. “I want to assure you that in all of those meetings, we always raise these issues,” Mr. Obama said.
A young man in the audience asked the president to discuss political scandals in Malaysia and the country’s “failed justice system” with Mr. Najib.
“I admit that I was going to do it anyway, but now that I hear it from you, I’m definitely going to do it,” Mr. Obama said.
The president, who arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Friday for two regional summits, said he would tread somewhat cautiously in this realm because people often don’t want the U.S. meddling in their internal affairs. He added the U.S. also should have some humility, noting that there are problems in his own country.
Mr. Obama’s push for human rights and democratic values played out against the backdrop of corruption allegations that have spurred protests and left Mr. Najib under pressure.
A government investment fund that was supposed to attract investment in Malaysia is under investigation in five countries amid allegations that billions of dollars have gone missing and that nearly $700 million tied to the fund ended up in the prime minister’s alleged private accounts. Malaysian investigators haven’t said where exactly the funds came from and what happened to the money after it reached the accounts.
Mr. Najib, who set up the fund, 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB, has denied any wrongdoing, and no one has been charged by investigators. The fund also denies wrongdoing and both Mr. Najib and 1MDB say they are cooperating with investigations.
Some of the prime minister’s critics have been detained and two publications that reported on the scandal were temporarily suspended by the government. The government has said Malaysia is a free country and accords its people the right to criticize officials.
A senior administration official said the Obama administration is troubled by the Malaysian government’s use of the Sedition Act and other national-security laws to harass, detain and arrest critics of the government.
Mr. Obama said that he and Mr. Najib talked about “how we can promote those values that will encourage continued development and opportunity and prosperity.” Mr. Najib said that he “explained the current situation in Malaysia.”
“Malaysia is committed to reforms, and we are committed to ensuring at the same time there is peace and stability in Malaysia,” the prime minister said.
At the town hall event, Mr. Obama also decried the consequences of racial and ethnic divisions, noting that the U.S. has long struggled with these issues. “I would guard against that here in your home countries,” he said. “But the truth is, here in Southeast Asia, as everybody here knows, that same kind of tendency happens.”
Mr. Obama encouraged the young leaders to respect people’s differences, saying that marriage as a civil institution should be available to everybody. “People who have a different sexual orientation are deserving of respect and dignity like everyone else,” he said. “Government policy should treat everybody equally under the law.”
President Obama says Mali attack stiffens resolve against terrorism
Pesident Obama said the hostage standoff that claimed at least one American life in Mali on Friday “only stiffens our resolve” to combat the scourge of terrorism.
Before planned remarks on trade Saturday at an economic summit in Malaysia, the president hailed the work of American diplomatic security forces and other American troops who worked with French and United Nations personnel to prevent even further bloodshed after Islamist gunmen stormed a Western hotel in Bamako, the Malian capital.
“Like the heinous attacks we saw in Paris, and the attacks we see all too often elsewhere, this is another awful reminder of the scourge of terrorism that threatens so many of our nations,” Obama said. “Once again this barbarity only stiffens our resolve to meet this challenge. We will stand with the people of Mali as they work to rid their country of terrorists and strengthen their democracy.”
The president arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Friday as he nears the end of a 10-day foreign trip that also included stops in Turkey and the Philippines. The attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 and in Mali have competed for his attention as he has also sought to promote his trade agenda and highlight deepened ties he’s sought to build in southeast Asia.
But Obama signaled in his remarks Saturday morning how his rebalance strategy also serves America’s security interests in the fight against terrorism.
“I’ve seen throughout my trip this week nations around the world, including countries represented here today, are united in our determination to protect our people, push back on the hateful ideologies that fuel this terrorism, and stand up for the universal values of tolerance and respect for human dignity that united us and makes us stronger than any terrorist,” he said. “This is the work that we must do together.”