Well on their way. A good overview of the direction 'moderate' Malaysia is headed.
Malaysia's axis mysteriously shifting
When Abdullah Badawi became Malaysia's prime minister in 2003, many thought the mild-mannered leader would take a more moderate approach to international relations than his prickly predecessor Mahathir Mohamad, who often locked diplomatic horns with the United States and other Western countries.
But a string of scandals and crimes with international dimensions, some even linked to Abdullah's family members, have put his
government's relations with Washington on an uncomfortable footing.
US authorities last month arrested and charged Pakistani national Jilani Humayun for his alleged role in shipping contraband military goods to Malaysia, from where they were re-exported to Iran. He was also charged with conspiracy to commit money-laundering and mail fraud. The sensitive dual-use hardware, which was funneled through an as yet unnamed Malaysian company, included parts for F-5 and F-14 fighter jets and Chinook helicopters.
In April the US imposed sanctions on 14 companies, individuals and government agencies it accused of dealing in advanced weapon technology with Iran or Syria. Two of the companies listed were Malaysian, the Challenger Corp and Target Airfreight.
Moreover, a federal jury in New York last year convicted Singaporean businessman Ernest Koh Chong Tek of smuggling dual-use US military parts to Malaysia for transshipment to Iran's military - a violation of the 1995 embargo the US placed on all exports and re-exports of commodities to Iran without approval by the US Office of Foreign Asset Control. He was also charged with laundering millions of dollars through his Singapore bank accounts in the smuggling scheme.
The US and Iran are currently at diplomatic loggerheads over Tehran's nuclear program, and Washington has frequently accused Iran's military of arming radical Muslim militias in the Middle East, including the Lebanon-based Hezbollah as well as Iraqi insurgents who have targeted US troops. However, at least on the surface, bilateral relations with Malaysia remain cordial.
US officials who spoke with Asia Times Online would not comment on the investigations involving Malaysia on the grounds that they involve sensitive intelligence information. And so far there is no evidence to link recent violations of the US embargo directly to Abdullah. Yet security analysts say the recent incidents have put the crucial bilateral relationship on edge.
"I am absolutely sure that the US is watching these developments closely and pressing hard on Malaysia behind the scenes," said Tim Huxley of the Singapore-based International Institute of Strategic Studies.
The US is Malaysia's largest foreign investor, and the two sides are negotiating a wide-ranging free-trade agreement. Kuala Lumpur relies heavily on the United States' military presence to maintain the region's balance of power, particularly vis-a-vis its heavily armed neighbor Singapore. At the same time, Malaysia has been a key ally to the US administration's "global war on terror" in the region.
"Malaysia needs the US and doesn't want to do anything that will tilt the US toward Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia," said Richard Bitzinger, a security specialist at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. "Both sides will be willing to accept some [security] deficiencies, if they remain at low levels."
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