From Strength to Empowerment

The Next Generation of U.S.-Malaysia Relations

Relations between the United States and Malaysia are at an all-time high. Since President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Najib Razak entered office in 2009, both countries’ governments have committed to a new beginning and moved to establish closer ties through increased political, economic, and people-to-people cooperation.

At the political and security levels, U.S.-Malaysia relations experienced a marked shift following the first meeting between Obama and Najib during the nuclear nonproliferation summit in Washington in 2010. Just before the meeting, the Malaysian Parliament had passed export control legislation to bolster Malaysia’s efforts to prevent proliferation. During the meeting, Najib offered to send noncombatant medical military personnel to Afghanistan. Bilateral economic and trade cooperation between the United States and Malaysia is also reaching new levels. Najib in 2010 brought Malaysia into the nine-country talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which include the United States. Soon after taking office, Najib proposed economic reforms in the service sector, which opened more opportunities for international investors, including U.S. companies. The authors of this report believe that the leaders in both capitals should recognize the current window of opportunity and move with a sense of urgency to institutionalize the levels of engagement that are necessary to advance the interests of both countries in the 21st century.

Murray Hiebert
Senior Associate (Non-resident), Southeast Asia Program
Gregory B. Poling
Senior Fellow and Director, Southeast Asia Program and Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

Ernest Z. Bower

Mahani Zainal Abidin, Elina Noor, and Tham Siew Yean