Obama’s agenda during visit to Malaysia

When President Obama visited Malaysia, it was obvious to many that the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement was a key priority on the agenda.

May 02, 2014

Anil Netto

By Anil Netto
When President Obama visited Malaysia, it was obvious to many that the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement was a key priority on the agenda.

Only thing, like the rest of the secretive TPPA negotiations, the talks seemed to be held behind the scenes. Obviously, there seem to be some reservations that are preventing the deal from being signed. And for good reason too.

US presidents don't visit Malaysia or the region for nothing. There is always an agenda.

The last time a US president toured this part of the world was 48 years ago, when Lyndon B Johnson visited Kuala Lumpur on Oct 30, 1966. His visit to newly formed Malaysia took place a year after the United States deployed regular combat troops to Vietnam, following its stepped-up involvement after the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964. Apart from Malaysia, his tour of South-East Asia took him to South Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines, and no doubt in a move to drum up support for the US involvement in the Vietnam War.

Back then, it was a turbulent time for the region. In next-door Indonesia, in the transition to US-backed Suharto's New Order regime, a massive anti-communist purge killed over 500000 people, the massacres subsiding by March 1966.

A half century later, this time the agenda is the TPP A– and to cultivate a US-friendly buffer in the region to serve as a bulwark against China's growing economic clout. That explains the US plan to seek a deal with the Philippines to allow US troops and vessels to once again use military bases in that country. It is all a far cry from the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (Zopfan), one of the early ideals of the Asean region.

Sungai Siput MP Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj raised a pertinent question. In an open letter to Obama, he asked the US president whose interest he was representing when he visited Malaysia: "The top one per cent – the richest people of this globe – who want access to as much of the world as possible for them to do just what they want to maximise profits? Is that who you really represent, Mr President?"

The Sungai Siput MP said it was sad that "an intelligent and highly talented individual" such as Obama could be "hijacked" into becoming the 'poster boy' of corporate America. "It is a loss to all of us that your talents have not been used to work towards a world where people come before profits, where CO2 emissions are capped and the environment treated with the reverence it deserves."

Obama likes to point to his multicultural heritage in the melting pot that is the United States, a country which immigrants from many countries have made home. To his credit, the US president did have some noteworthy words for young people across the region about the importance of being proud of one's culture and heritage while not succumbing to prejudice and discrimination when dealing with minority groups.

Conflicts would arise if people played on racial or religious sentiment or practised discrimination. He pointed out the prevailing situation in certain countries such as Myanmar, where the Buddhists are the majority, and prejudice has left the Muslims in an anxious situation; the situation, if not handled carefully, could threaten Myanmar's stability. In the same vein, Obama said that Muslim-majority Malaysia "would not progress if non-Muslims are not given the same opportunity".

But the overriding message of the US president during his visit would probably have centred around trade and "security". Fortunately for us, the TPPA could be delayed further, as US and Japanese negotiators could not agree on agricultural tariffs during Obama's earlier stop in Tokyo.

All the same, the neoliberal agenda and the growing clout of transnational corporations (which would be accelerated with the TPPA) present a real risk to our domestic economy, ordinary workers and the ecology.

Already, the regressive Goods and Services Tax has caused much unhappiness even as the top one percent grow fabulously wealthy. With the spectre of GST looming next year, and as the federal government and households across the nation groan from the weight of debt, there was little for workers to celebrate on Workers Day.

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