KUALA LUMPUR — It was a meeting to mark the 25th anniversary of relations between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China, held in the the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming, in a region known for historically close trading links with the Southeast Asian countries to the south, including Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Surprisingly, given the location and the commemoration, ASEAN member state Malaysia issued a statement on behalf of the bloc criticizing China over its territorial claims in the contested South China Sea. The statement noted that recent developments in the disputed sea — where China has been building artificial islands and constructing what it calls “defensive facilities” while the U.S., an ally of the Philippines, has been conducting naval patrols and reconnaissance flights in the name of freedom of navigation — had raised concerns about a spillover clash with China. Those fears, the statement added, had “the potential to undermine peace”. “We stressed the importance of maintaining peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea,” the ASEAN foreign ministers said. But in an about-turn more startling than the earlier statement, Malaysia, which chaired the bloc in 2015 before passing the leadership to Laos, a Communist-ruled country with close ties to China, led the way in issuing a sudden retraction, saying there were “urgent amendments to be made.”
KUALA LUMPUR — It must have been through gritted teeth, but Malaysia’s troubled Prime Minister Najib Razak affected a sanguine air when asked about his reaction to U.S. President Barack Obama’s comments on the recent crackdown on dissent during their meeting on Nov. 20. “Malaysia is committed to reforms,” Najib said.The Malaysian prime minster added that he is “taking into account some of the president’s views” on freedom of speech and the role of civil society in a democracy — a contribution Obama sees as significant given that while in Kuala Lumpur he also met with the organizer of a demonstration in August demanding Najib’s resignation. Since a narrow 2013 election win, Najib has overseen the charging of hundreds of journalists, activists, cartoonists and lawmakers with sedition, while opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has been sent back to jail for allegedly sodomizing a male colleague — a criminal offence in Malaysia. “Najib has been in a touchy mode since the May 5, 2013 general elections. He does not seem to take criticism very well, and so I imagine that Obama meeting opposition people upset Najib,” said James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania.
KUALA LUMPUR – However despite Mahathir’s recent outbursts on social media about the 1MDB allegations and his criticism of Najib, the incumbent appears to have the backing of the United National Malays Organisation (UMNO), the main party in Malaysia’s ruling coalition. UMNO Secretary General Adnan Mansor said that the party was holding together, despite rumors of a split over Najib’s position. Mahathir, who celebrated his unofficial 90th birthday on Friday, remains an influential figure in party circles and continues to call for Najib’s ouster. “UMNO is intact. We are united behind the prime minister to protect his [party] presidency. For those who wish to see UMNO disintegrate, it will not happen,” Adnan said, speaking at the iftar event attended by Najib.
KUALA LUMPUR — In the latest round of a divisive political and religious saga, a Malaysian court ruled Monday that the word “Allah” can only be used by the country’s Muslim majority, overturning a previous decision that allowed other faiths using the term to denote “God” in their local-language services and scriptures. This morning, Malaysia’s Court of Appeals issued an expansive ruling that sparked surprise and anger throughout the country. At the court in Malaysia’s administrative capital Putrajaya, Justice Mohamed Apandi read a brief summary of the 100+ page judgment. “Our common finding is that the usage of Allah is not an integral part of the Christian faith. We cannot find why the parties are so adamant on the usage of the word,” he said.