KUALA LUMPUR, March 27 — US President Barack Obama must press Malaysia to abandon the Sedition Act and foster democracy to gain a crucial ally in the region in its race with China, a writer with The Diplomat magazine said.
The Asia-Pacific magazine said China is “particularly keen” on filling the US void in the region through economic clout and “hawkish demonstrations” in the South China Sea.
“If the US doesn’t capitalise on the openness of Malaysia and other nations in the region to its advances — it will surely lose momentum to China.
“One possible step to re-engage? Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry must condemn Malaysia’s draconian Sedition Act, which gives the state sweeping powers against those deemed too critical of the government,” the Japan-based magazine wrote.
The writer, Karam Singh Sethi, noted that there is a “deep desire” for increased engagement between Kuala Lumpur and Washington among students and teachers, to diplomats.
He warned that administrations after Obama will be playing catch up with China for “decades to come” if he does not continue to lay a foundation for strong engagement in the region after his presidency ends in 2017.
The US has in recent times issued statements expressing concern over Malaysia’ use of the Sedition Act, particularly over the bid to strengthen to it despite Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s pledge in 2012 to repeal the colonial-era law.
It most recently expressed concern over the use of the Sedition Act to arrest Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar over a speech condemning the judiciary that she delivered in Parliament.
US engagement with Malaysia improved following Obama’s “pivot to Asia” policy that culminated with his visit to the country and others in the region last year.