Malaysia eyes improved trade ties with US after Biden election win

Malaysia eyes improved trade ties with US after Biden election win
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. (AFP/File)
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Updated 12 November 2020

Malaysia eyes improved trade ties with US after Biden election win

Malaysia eyes improved trade ties with US after Biden election win
  • Biden’s victory will benefit Malaysia through more trade-friendly global environment, resolution to South China Sea dispute: Experts, politicians

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.

France looks to rally aid for Lebanon, but no bailout

Updated 9 min 18 sec ago

France looks to rally aid for Lebanon, but no bailout

France looks to rally aid for Lebanon, but no bailout
  • The meeting is the second since the disastrous Aug. 4 explosion
  • The explosion came amid an unprecedented financial meltdown

BEIRUT: France is hosting an international video conference on humanitarian aid for Lebanon Wednesday, amid political deadlock in Beirut that has blocked billions of dollars in assistance for the cash-strapped country hit by multiple crises.
The meeting, organized by France and the United Nations, is the second since the disastrous Aug. 4 explosion that destroyed Beirut’s port and wrecked large parts of the capital. The blast, which also killed over 200 people and wounded thousands, was caused by the detonation of nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrates that had been stored unsafely at a port warehouse for years.
The explosion came amid an unprecedented financial meltdown — worsened by coronavirus closures — that has brought soaring inflation, poverty and unemployment.
An official with the French presidency, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the conference, said Wednesday’s meeting would take stock of how urgent aid could best be used going forward, rather than offer up new amounts of cash to a country “known for its dysfunctions, to put it mildly.”
In a dire report published Tuesday, the World Bank said Lebanon’s economy faces an “arduous and prolonged depression,” with real GPD projected to plunge by nearly 20% because its politicians refuse to implement reforms that would speed up the country’s recovery.
President Emmanuel Macron, whose country once governed Lebanon as a protectorate, has vowed to push ahead with aid efforts despite frustration with its ruling class. Lebanon’s leaders continue to resist reforms and have been unable to form a government after the last one resigned in the wake of the explosion.
The French official said representatives from 27 countries would take part, including 12 heads of state, but that local Lebanese aid groups would have a central role as trusted partners.
A new government would be the first step toward implementing a French roadmap for reforms to enable the release of billions of dollars of international aid. Another key international demand is a Central Bank audit. US consultancy firm Alvarez & Marsal withdrew last month from a forensic audit it was tasked with, saying it had not received the information required to carry out its work.
The Aug. 4 explosion, widely blamed on the negligence of Lebanese politicians and security agencies, has brought world attention to the corruption that has plagued the country for decades and left it on the brink of bankruptcy with hollowed out institutions.
World leaders and international organizations pledged nearly $300 million in emergency humanitarian aid after the blast but warned that no money for rebuilding the capital will be made available until Lebanese authorities commit themselves to serious political and economic reforms.
The donors pledged the aid will be coordinated by the UN and delivered directly to the Lebanese people, in a clear rebuke of the country’s entrenched and notoriously corrupt leaders.
“We have the same parliament, we have the same political leaders,” the French official said. “Fortunately, we note that civil society has organized, which is taking up position and compensating for the deficiencies of the state and public services.”
The aid money is expected to go directly to NGOs and other organizations to distribute to the public, bypassing the Lebanese government.