chapter  11
17 Pages

Malaysia and the United States: Rejecting dominance, embracing engagement


Relations between Malaysia and the United States have been highly charged under Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s Prime Minister from 1981 to 2003. The most serious of these differences were over trade policy, Washington’s push for human rights and democratisation, the US liberalisation agenda for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum and Washington’s dismissal of Mahathir’s preferred alternative, the East Asian Economic Grouping (EAEG), US and IMF responses to the Asian financial crisis, the Palestine-Israel issue and, more recently, the US ‘War on Terror’. Although the present Abdullah Badawi administration continues to be critical over Washington’s prosecution of the ‘War on Terror’, US-Malaysia relations have proceeded far more smoothly in the last year than at anytime during the previous 24 years (Baker 2004, 70). It would be misleading, however, to account for Malaysia’s tense relations with the US primarily in terms of the combative personality of Mahathir. Closer examination reveals that Malaysia-US relations during the Mahathir administration were, in fact, characterised by a ‘combination of criticism and cooperation’, which continues to date under Abdullah Badawi though without the ‘edge’ that was evident during Mahathir’s watch (Baker 2004, 70). Amidst the factiousness, Malaysia under Mahathir maintained fairly strong economic and defence/security ties with the US. Despite the current Prime Minister’s wish for better ties, and the marked reduction in combative rhetoric, criticism of the US continues, particularly with respect to the ‘War on Terror’. Extensive bilateral cooperation continues, however.