Last month, Philippines President Roderigo Duterte dramatically announced separation from the United States on a visit to Beijing. Now Malaysia's Prime Minister has gone to China to announce a package of multi-billion dollar deals, including a breakthrough agreement to buy four warships. We have details from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.
Until now, Malaysia's armed forces have relied on weapons supplied by the United States. The U.S. Navy makes regular calls in Malaysian ports and, according to the New York Times, Prime Minister Najib Razak quietly allowed U.S. Navy patrol planes in to fly surveillance missions over the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
The Prime Minister also enjoyed a warm relationship with President Obama. Then, last July, the Justice Department announced an investigation into a billion dollars that suspects close to the Prime Minister allegedly embezzled from Malaysia's scandal ridden 1MDB development fund. Money used to buy luxury apartments, real estate and other assets in the US. The Wall Street Journal quoted a person close to the Malaysian government who described the investigation as a "strategic mistake."
Including the four fast patrol ships, Malaysia and China announced agreements on 14 deals totaling nearly 35 billion dollars and Prime Minister Najib hailed China as a "true friend and strategic partner." While Malaysia is a party to the dispute in the South China Sea, its position has always been more muted than Vietnam's or, until recently, the Philippines'. And while China continues to woo U.S. allies, two major regional powers, Indonesia and Australia, announced this week that they are considering joint patrols in the South China Sea that would challenge Chinese claims.