SINGAPORE, September 14 – Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim emphasized that Malaysia must remain highly independent as a sovereign nation and should not be coerced into choosing sides in the escalating dispute between the United States (US) and China. Speaking at the 2023 Milken Institute Asia Summit in Singapore on Wednesday, Anwar wanted Malaysia to maintain close relations with both the US and China, in line with ASEAN’s policy.

“This idea that you have to be with China or the US. No, why should we suffer and be told what to do? I mean, we must be very independent as a sovereign nation,” he said during a special session titled ‘Conversation with the Prime Minister of Malaysia,’ which was broadcasted online. When asked if other ASEAN countries might lose out to Vietnam for getting close to the US due to its willingness to take a pro-US stance, Anwar said he wasn’t so concerned. He stated that Malaysia’s relations with the US government, investors, and companies remained strong.

“I don’t predict many issues. President Joe Biden chose to visit Vietnam, which is good for Vietnam after they suffered so much in the past. It’s time for the US to give extra attention to Vietnam. I have no issue with that,” he said. According to media reports, the US and Vietnam recently agreed to elevate their relationship to a ‘comprehensive strategic partnership,’ the highest diplomatic level, matching what Vietnam has with China, Russia, India, and South Korea.

Instead, Anwar expressed his concern about the US-China tensions, saying that ASEAN had a role to play by involving both China and the US, and appealed for them to reduce tension as it affected countries in the region. During the recent ASEAN Summit in Jakarta, he said, the bloc of 10 nations called on both China and the US to reduce tension in the South China Sea. “I mentioned it in front of Chinese Premier Li Qiang about the South China Sea, he gave a very positive response, ensuring to respect the rights of countries and negotiate and continue effective negotiations.

“And we also appealed to US Vice President (Kamala Harris) to try and reduce this tension because it affects us (ASEAN),” he said. Regarding the perception that President Biden and President Xi Jinping did not pay much attention to ASEAN by sending their representatives because most member countries were not willing to take sides, Anwar said the world needed ASEAN to remain exceptional. “ASEAN must maintain centrality as the core of its foreign policy, to continue engaging effectively with China and the United States,” he said.

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