KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is hoping for improved trade relations with the US when the administration of American President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
Following the reporting by major American media outlets of Biden’s win in the presidential election, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Sunday said that the southeast Asian nation was looking forward to its comprehensive partnership with the US continuing to be “an overarching framework for pro-active, multifaceted, and mutually beneficial collaboration.”
According to experts, the partnership, established in 2014 during former US President Barack Obama’s term in the White House, has faced challenges under President Donald Trump’s administration.
Azmi Hassan, a geostrategy expert from the University of Technology Malaysia, told Arab News: “It was a volatile environment because Trump accused Malaysia of currency manipulation leading to the trade surplus with the US.
“The US is a very important market for Malaysian products and a trade relationship based on mutual respect and not at the whim and fancy of a president will no doubt spur more trade activity where both sides benefit.”
Malaysia’s International Trade and Industry Minister Mohammed Azmin Ali congratulated Biden on his win and expressed optimism that “the US business community will continue to explore further opportunities for greater direct investments in Malaysia.”
Dr. Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, hoped that Biden’s victory would benefit Malaysia because it would most likely create a more trade-friendly global environment.
“Biden is an advocate of free trade, as opposed to Trump who is a protectionist, so we are going to see the reversion to the American free trade global agenda. Malaysia is a manufacturing and export-oriented country, so of course such advocacy for free trade would be beneficial for a country such as Malaysia,” he said.
He expressed hope that US tariffs on imports would be reduced and “will allow more Malaysian goods to be exported. (Biden’s win) is going to lift up the (Malaysian) economy, so this is good news.”
There are also expectations that Biden’s success could strengthen the US’ role in helping to broker a peaceful resolution of the South China Sea dispute.
China stakes claim to most of the South China Sea — an important trade route which is believed to contain large quantities of oil and natural gas — in competition with several southeast Asian countries, including Malaysia. The countries have wrangled over territory for decades, but tensions have increased in recent years after China started deploying military assets in disputed parts of the sea.
The situation developed further in July when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that Beijing’s claims to the sea were illegal.
Hassan said the Trump administration was “less interested” in actually solving the dispute and a more constructive approach was expected from Biden.
“It won’t be like the Trump strategy of tick-for-tack style but more diplomatic and structured in approach,” he added.
In a speech at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers’ meeting on Tuesday, Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said that his country was waiting to hear the new US administration’s policy on the dispute.
“With regards to the US in the South China Sea, we will have to see what is the policy with the new administration, and we have to see the stance of the other superpower up north,” he added, referring to China.