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Analysis: Trump-Najib meeting may help Najib remain in power

 | October 19, 2017

Despite criticism by some Malaysians of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s September visit to the US, the fact that 1MDB was not mentioned – and he was not arrested by the US – is being used to strengthen his position.

Najib-TrumpKUALA LUMPUR: Prime Minister Najib Razak’s meeting with US President Donald Trump at the White House on Sept 12 seems to have left him in a position of strength, according to an analysis in the East-West Center’s Asia Pacific Bulletin.

The writer, Matthew Wong Kah Weng, says: “Trump’s invitation to the controversial Malaysian prime minister and the deliberate shirking of the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) issue during the visit leaves Najib in a position of perceived strength as he looks to extend his tenure as prime minister.”

He notes that at the time of the meeting, the US Justice Department was in the midst of civil lawsuits seeking to seize US assets worth about US$1.7 billion linked to 1MDB.

However, there was absolutely no mention of 1MDB in all official proceedings.

This is being used by Najib’s supporters to prove their leader had nothing to do with the 1MDB scandal, he says.

Wong says to Najib, the Barisan Nasional and supporters, this omission was strategically crucial because it lends legitimisation to Najib’s position as Malaysia’s leader and it gives him a strong case to repudiate the opposition’s charge linking him to the 1MDB scandal.

“Najib flying in to meet Trump without being denied entry or arrested by US law enforcement — as was claimed would happen by the political opposition — was spun by Najib’s supporters as proof that the opposition’s 1MDB allegation was nothing more than a political ploy.

“Domestically, Najib hopes to capitalise on this by allaying suspicions supporters and political fence-sitters have about his culpability in the scandal.”

He notes that the Trump-Najib meeting went smoothly in diplomatic terms, with both leaders treating each other warmly and discussing agreeable agenda items and that Trump extolled Malaysia’s role in investing in the US, countering Islamic State and limiting its ties with North Korea.

Malaysia’s mainstream and government-affiliated media emphasised the success of the meeting, and Trump’s praise, crediting Najib with expanding Malaysia’s international profile and role.

“This rosy picture of Najib’s visit, however, did not reflect the opinions of all Malaysians. Many — especially opposition supporters — while acknowledging the importance of their leader meeting the US president, focused on Najib’s personal and political gains, rather than gains for Malaysia.”

He adds that the glaring absence of a joint press conference during Najib’s visit to the White House reinforced the view among Najib’s opponents that he was skirting controversial questions — namely the 1MDB scandal and political repression in Malaysia.

“In terms of deliverables, many Malaysians were dismayed by the commercial ‘value proposition’ offered by Najib to the United States,” he says, referring to Najib’s announcement that Malaysia Airlines would purchase Boeing aircraft worth US$3 billion and that the Employees Provident Fund intended to invest US$3-US$4 billion in Trump’s initiative to redevelop American infrastructure.

“Malaysians were indignant at possible diversion of funds to the US instead of fixing deteriorating infrastructure back home. And with the rising cost of living being a sore point for many people, the political opposition ridiculed Najib as being aloof and for selling Malaysia’s assets for his personal benefit.”


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