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Malaysia calls on Trump to reconsider Asia strategy

Malaysia calls on Trump to reconsider Asia strategy
Hishammuddin also calls for a diplomatic solution to the South China Sea dispute, Asia's biggest potential military flashpoint. - Pix courtesy of Malaysian Defence Ministry
SINGAPORE: Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein on Monday (January 23) called on newly-inaugurated U.S. President Donald Trump to reconsider his stance on Washington's commitment to Asia at regional security forum in Singapore.

Trump's "America First" rhetoric and calls for allies to pay more of the cost for U.S. troops in the region or face their possible withdrawal have worried officials in some Asian capitals. So has his opposition to a 12-nation pan-Pacific trade pact that was a linchpin of Washington's "pivot" to the region.

Hishammuddin also urged the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to fill in the gap in light of such changes.

"President Donald Trump has a number of times highlighted the possibility of reducing certain U.S. commitments overseas.

"While we hope that he will reconsider, given how crucial the Asia Pacific is to America's security and economy, it is perhaps timely also that ASEAN takes this challenge in filling up the vacuum as the result of certain policy changes that involves the superpowers of the world," Hishammuddin said during the opening of the fifth annual International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Fullerton Forum, the Shangri-La Dialogue Sherpa meeting.
Hishammuddin also called for a diplomatic solution to the South China Sea dispute, Asia's biggest potential military flashpoint, adding that the build-up of military might in the region has led to worries of a rising risk of accidental collisions that could spark conflict.

"We must also look beyond tired and childish notions of winners and losers for the simple fact that peace is a universal good and is not a zero-sum game. There has been as of late a regrettable tendency to pigeonhole foreign relations in the Asia Pacific as a series of false dichotomies - we are apparently being forced to choose between east and west, between China or the United States, between liberalism and populism," he said.

China claims most of the South China Sea as its territory. But Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have rival claims to parts of the waterway, which commands strategic sea lanes which carry some $5 trillion worth of trade a year.

Recent U.S. efforts to counter what it sees as China limiting freedom of navigation in the South China Sea have drawn Beijing's ire and stoked fears of military conflict.

Echoing Prime Minister Najib Razak's call on Myanmar to stop all discrimination and attacks on Rohingya Muslims at a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) last week, Hishammuddin also urged Myanmar to reach out to the minority group.

"It needs to be resolved. We cannot sweep it under the carpet, it affects a lot of Muslims and is very emotional," he told an audience of military officials from over 20 countries in the Asia Pacific and the European Union.

Malaysia has spoken out strongly against mostly Buddhist Myanmar over its treatment of its Rohingya minority, especially since October, when security forces launched a crackdown in the north of Rakhine State on the Bangladesh border, where many Rohingya live.

At least 86 people have been killed and an estimated 66,000 have fled into Bangladesh since nine Myanmar policemen were killed on Oct. 9 in attacks on border posts, which the Myanmar government blamed on Rohingya supported by foreign militants.

Refugees, residents and human rights groups say Myanmar forces have committed summary executions, raped women and burned homes.

But the Myanmar government led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has denied the accusations, saying many of the reports are fabricated. It insists the strife in Rakhine State is an internal matter.