Discussion of democracy recedes on Obama's Asia trip
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — The deep fissures in Malaysia's political system are forcing President Obama to spell out the least-defined aspect of his Asia outreach strategy — how much the United States will use its renewed focus on the region to press for democratic reforms and protections for human rights.
Although Obama tackled the issue of democracy in Asia during a historic visit to Burma in November 2012, it has faded in prominence when compared with economic engagement and security cooperation. But the issue remains a critical part of the administration's engagement with Southeast Asia, in part because several emerging nations are wrestling with how to transition to democracy now that they have advanced economically.
For Southeast Asian countries with relatively young populations compared with Northeast Asia's heavyweights — Japan, China and South Korea — that is particularly important.
As he works to foster ties to Malaysia, a Muslim-majority nation that has traditionally been closer to China than the United States, Obama must balance his desire to praise Prime Minister Najib Razak with the recognition that his government has used the legal system to sideline its political allies and limit free expression in the media.
“What do we want from the president? To see Malaysia for what it is,” said Ambiga Sreenevasan, an electoral reform advocate who will meet with Obama on Sunday evening. “If they are glowing about our democracy and modernization, they are undermining the work that we do and encouraging them to carry on with this oppressive conduct.”
Obama's aides have touted Sunday's session with members of civil society, which will include 10 activists and is scheduled to last 15 minutes, as an example of how the president will use his visit to promote American values.
“Of course, we've had some concerns at times over restrictions on civil society,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday, “so he'll have an opportunity to not just speak to that but also to hear from some of these individual leaders.”
But many Malaysians have questioned why the president will not meet with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who was recently convicted for the second time in his political career under Malaysia's colonial-era sodomy law. National security adviser Susan Rice will meet with him instead.
Rhodes defended the administration's decision to have Rice meet with Anwar rather than the president, saying Saturday that Obama “doesn't frequently meet with opposition leaders when he visits other countries.” But Rhodes said that by the end of the state visit, “I don't think there will be any question as to where he stands on those issues.”
“We support deepening of democratic practices in Malaysia,” he said, adding that Obama will raise the issue in his public remarks and likely in his bilateral meeting with Najib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Washington quiet as Venezuela finally lands seat on U.N. Security Council
- ‘Piecemeal’ World War III has begun, pope warns
- Hurricane Odile batters Mexico’s Baja California coast
- Scientists snatch giant opportunity
- Al-Qaida’s South Asia wing claims 1st big strike
- Russia’s business world rattled by arrest of oil tycoon Yevtushenkov
- Obama, generals part ways on ground war in Iraq