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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

PM Visit to Washington DC

Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Abdul Razak had just touched down in Washington D.C., as he prepared to be the first ASEAN leader to visit current sitting US President, Donald J Trump after his inauguration on 18 January early this year.

Source - PM Najib Razak blog

What would his visit entails to? Let's see what is it in for DSN, and to that extent, Malaysia.

Political Recognition
First thing first, it would be political recognition. Like it or not, his visit to Washington, being the first ASEAN leader to make his way to the White House means a lot politically.

On the home front, he is besieged with several political scandals. I will not go into the scandals as these have been well-covered and two, I'm not a political pundit.

Visa Free Entry to US for Malaysians
This of course will be the cream on the cake. Malaysian government had been negotiating for a visa free entry into US the last 2 to 3 years. If this is achieved, this will mean a lot for bilateral relationship for both nations. It will mean lesser barrier between both nations and greater flow of people, goods and even businesses.

US is Malaysia's fourth largest trading partner, while we are their nineteenth largest trading partner as at 2014.

With trade approaching USD50 billion, the trade balance heavily favours Malaysia. As July 2017, this stands in Malaysian favour at USD13.3 billion. The trade balance had also favoured Malaysia in 2016, amounting to USD24.8 billion.

This trade balance heavily favouring Malaysia had raised the concern of US State Department.

Defence Cooperation
Defence cooperation is one area where US can help Malaysia.

The US was once Malaysia's premier choice to equip our military. RMAF is the world largest operator of US-made Sikorsky S61 helicopters. We had also operated US-made Northrop Grumman F5EII Tiger and McDonell A4PTM SkyHawk. Had not General Dynamics lost out in the competition to supply RMAF with F16 Fighting Falcon to Russian Mikoyan Gurevich MiG29, RMAF would probably still consist of largely US-made jets.

Malaysia is currently looking for more MultiRole Combat Aircraft (MRCA) to replace the ageing MiG29. The contract would call for 18 to 24 units of MRCA to RMAF is estimated at USD2.5 billion.

The open tender which was supposed to have been decided somewhere in March this year, had not been fulfilled, leaving Boeing an opening to once more push their FA18EF Super Hornet.

Some sources are said to be very favourable for this plane to replace the ageing MiG29 as it is far more cost effective to operate compared to those from 2 other contenders, D'Assault Aviation Rafale and British Aerospace Eurofighter Typhoon. This cost reduction is achieved from simplified training module with weapons and spare part commonality with existing RMAF FA18D Hornets. Interoperability has also been achieved, as RMAF Hornets have been upgraded to 25x standards, which is the standard to be able to operate with Super Hornets.

As mentioned earlier, Super Hornet's contenders are Rafale and Typhoon. Both are technically newer designs and are still in production. The only reason why early this year that Rafale and Typhoon were favoured over Super Hornet was the uncertainty with US as the Super Hornet was supposed to have stopped production last year in favour of F35. Under President Trump's direction, not only Super Hornet has a new lease of life, it is now being sought by Canada and India. (Note of disclaimer, there are news that Canada may not procure additional Super Hornets as other manufacturers are coming up with equally interesting deals.)

Purchasing the Super Hornets would not only make military operational sense, but also diplomatic and economic sense. With total package priced at USD2.5 billion, this will help to shave off some of the trade favour towards Malaysia, which will be a plus point in President Trump's book. 

Diplomatically, it would also indirectly telling US that we want to be best buddies.

However, this may not be the case. As this could be more of a wishful thinking from myself.

On other defence front, it is also important to note that MAF have an extensive training exercise with US military. These exercises not only improve the capability of MAF, but also allow better interoperability between both forces. Lessons learnt in these exercises would reduce the time needed to coordinate for joint op whenever and wherever required, as part of the lessons learnt in the streets of Bakara Market, Mogadishu.

Malaysia too is one of the key nations in fighting against Daish. So far, successes against Daish in Malaysia had seen all but one attack being successful. The only successful attack was by Daish circa Sept 2015 Movida night club grenade attack which injured several guests. Most recently was the successful prevention of Daish attack on SEA Games and 60th National Day.

In Return
How does all these square off to the US?
One of the rumoured points of discussion between US President Donald Trump and DS Najib is said to be surrounding the issue of North Korea.

The recent revelation that North Korea may have finally perfected nuclear fission had caused a reality check in the US. With  nuclear fission technology, a nuclear warhead with far larger explosive capacity can be created.

With China not being able to reign in North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, it was said US is looking for ways to handle the increasingly belligerent dictator.

Malaysia's close relationship with China could also be leveraged to be the go-between US and China.

As DS Najib was said to have managed to deal directly with Kim Jong-un, it was said that his advice is now being sought to understand the belligerent dictator.

Rebalancing of Diplomatic Approach
The visit is also said to be an opportunity for Malaysia to rebalance our approach. 

The last 1 year, we have gotten very close with China. This pivot towards China is largely at the expense of US. As mentioned earlier, this visit will be an opportunity for Malaysia to be the go-between for US and China, especially on matters of common interest.

Would any of the above scenarios play out? We do not know for sure. It is either some of the above scenarios would happen, or I may need to find other sources. We will know once we cross the bridge.

Legacy of JJ 
All of these would not have been made possible if not for the hard work of one man, Tan Sri Dato Sri Jamaluddin Jarjis.  

Source photo - Bernama

During his appointment to the US as Malaysian Ambassador, he had worked hard to promote Malaysian interest and Malaysian government interest. This, allowing for a warmer relationship between both nations.

Unfortunately, this great man is no more as he was killed in an unfortunate helicopter crash in Semenyih in 2015. 

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