US President Barack Obama makes diplomatic mileage as tour nears end

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 April, 2014, 5:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 April, 2014, 5:09am

US President Barack Obama has made diplomatic mileage on the final leg of his Asian tour by upgrading bilateral relations with Malaysia and securing a 10-year pact that would allow a larger US military presence in the Philippines.

Malaysia and the US agreed to upgrade their bilateral relationship to a comprehensive partnership, Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters in Kuala Lumpur, allowing for greater collaboration on economic, security and technology matters.

“This marks a new phase in our relationship, with greater collaboration in economy, security, education, science, technology and more,” Najib said.

Obama’s visit to Kuala Lumpur has been framed by US officials as a way to encourage deeper economic and security ties with Malaysia, which chairs the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) next year. Obama left Japan last week without an agreement with that country over the agriculture and automotive sectors, a barrier to any broader trade deal.

At the joint news conference, Obama offered support to Malaysian efforts to locate missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

Razak’s government was working “tirelessly” to investigate the disappearance and had been “fully forthcoming” with US officials, he said. Obama said “we will continue to provide all the assistance we can” in the search for the missing plane.

Malaysia is the third of four stops on an Asian tour by Obama that has also taken him to South Korea. He heads to the Philippines today. 

The countries will sign a new 10-year security pact soon after Obama’s arrival, establishing a framework for a beefed-up rotation of US troops, ships and warplanes in the Philippines.

The accord allows for enhanced “rotational presence” of US forces in the country, but not a return of US military bases, American officials said. White House officials touted the deal as part of a “rebalancing” of US resources towards the fast-growing Asia-Pacific region. It comes as China has strengthened its maritime presence in disputed South China Sea areas after seizing control of Scarborough Shoal in 2012.

Reuters, Associated Press, Agence France-Presse