November 2, 2016

“SMART DIPLOMACY” UPDATE: Malaysia Cozies Up to China. “Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is in Beijing this week to sign off on the purchase of Chinese patrol vessels, the first major defense deal between the two countries. As the New York Times notes, the visit is another blow to the Obama administration’s Asia policy.” And if the Times is noting it the week before an election then you know it’s bad.

Plus:

Najib’s overture to China is spurred in part by anger over U.S. Department of Justice investigations into the country’s scandalous sovereign wealth fund, 1MDB. That controversy has damaged Najib’s international reputation and sent him straight into Beijing’s arms, as China has helpfully agreed to buy the fund’s power assets. Now, that gesture is starting to pay off. China and Malaysia started joint military exercises last year, and reports suggest that Najib will sign agreements on high-speed rail and port projects during his trip to Beijing.

The Malaysian pivot to China is especially embarrassing given President Obama’s clear efforts to court Najib. In 2014, Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Malaysia in nearly 50 years; later that year, Najib was the president’s golf buddy during his vacation in Hawaii. Yet that personal outreach cannot disguise the fact that the promises of the Obama administration’s pivot, particularly the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), have failed to come through. Like Duterte, Najib has apparently made the calculation that Beijing has more to offer than Washington—and unlike Duterte, this decision cannot be dismissed as the impulses of an anti-American demagogue.

They see China as the strong horse, and America as fundamentally transformed.

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