Obama Raises Concerns Over Corruption in Meeting With Malaysia PM

John Bechtel
2015.11.20
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151120-MY-malaysiaus-620 Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, left, meets with U.S. President Barack Obama in Kuala Lumpur before the start of the 27th summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Nov. 20, 2015.
AFP

U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday discussed corruption and transparency in government with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, while praising Malaysia’s participation in global efforts to rein in violent extremism.

Earlier in the day, Obama told a town hall-style meeting in Kuala Lumpur, attended by 500 young people from across Southeast Asia, that he planned to raise these issues with Najib during his second visit to Malaysia. Friday marked the first day of his second trip to Malaysia, where he is attending the 27th summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

“Now, I admit that I was going to do it anyway, but not that I hear it from you, I’m definitely going to do it,” Obama told a young Malaysian who asked the president for his help in raising the issue of corruption, democracy and transparency with the prime minister.

Since early July, Najib has been mired in allegations that more than U.S. $700 million in money from the debt-ridden 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state development fund, wound up in his private bank accounts. His government has been clamping down on media organizations that have reported on the scandal, in which people have called for his resignation.

After his meeting with Najib on Friday night, Obama told reporters during a joint appearance with Najib that “we talked about the importance of civil society.”

According to a U.S. official, Obama privately raised issues of human rights, corruption and freedom of expression with Najib, Reuters reported.

“[W]e take into account some of his views and concerns. But Malaysia is committed to reforms, and we are committed to reassuring at the same time there’s peace and stability,” Najib told reporters for his part.

Najib, Obama focus on countering terrorists

The two leaders also talked how their countries were cooperating in countering terrorism. The issue was highlighted by the host government increasing security around the summit, based on unconfirmed terrorist threats following last week’s Islamic State-claimed attacks in Paris and Beirut and Friday’s attack in Mali.

“The Malaysian government is very clear unequivocally that we are up against IS, against its ideology,” Najib said.

“It is evil. It is against Islam. It’s a perverted Islam and they do not represent us. So we will work very closely together with the United States and other like-minded countries to make this region safer and to combat any form of violent extremism,” he said.

Najib also spoke about plans announced in October for Kuala Lumpur to host a regional counter-messaging center to fight the Islamic State (IS) group’s extremist propaganda online. The center is expected to be similar to one in the United Arab Emirates that is increasing online efforts to undermine IS efforts to attract potential members.

“Because in fighting violent extremism, it’s not only a military solution that’s required, but it’s winning the hearts and minds of its people,” Najib said. “And that’s why it is important for us to present the authentic Islam, the true Islam, so that people realize what IS represents, or tries to represent, is the total perversion of Islam.”

Obama praised Malaysia, pointing out that like Indonesia, it is a majority-Muslim country that represents tolerance and peace. “[A]s a consequence, its voice is critical in the debate that is taking place internationally around terrorism.”

He went on to praise Malaysia for its willingness to host the counter-messaging center.

Najib stresses tolerance is best defense against terrorism

In his opening remarks on Friday at the 2015 ASEAN business and investment summit, held in conjunction with the larger ASEAN summit, Najib pointed out that the bloc’s member nations, home to 600 million people, must remain an oasis of peace and tolerance, the state-run Bernama news agency reported.

“The power of our example of remaining peaceful, tolerant, harmonious and inclusive societies is our best defense and guarantee against violent terrorism, against terrorist groups, against those people who seek to destroy our way of life,” Najib said, according to Bernama.

S. Adie Zul contributed to this report.

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