Malaysia–United States relations

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Malaysia–United States relations
Map indicating locations of Malaysia and USA


United States

Malaysia–United States relations are bilateral ties between the two countries. Malaysia and the United States established diplomatic ties upon Malayan independence in 1957. Malaya was the predecessor state to Malaysia, a larger federation which was formed through the merger of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore in 1963. Immediately before the merger, the latter three territories were previously part of the British Empire. But the US had consular and commercial presence in Malaya since the 1800s.[1] US merchants, especially Joseph William Torrey, also had commercial interests in North Borneo in the 19th century as well.

The US considered Malaysia as a Comprehensive Partner beginning 2014 which increased the importance of the diplomatic ties as part of President Barack Obama's Pivot to Asia policy. The Partnership increased bilateral consultations and cooperation on politics, diplomacy, trade, investment, education, people-to-people ties, security, the environment, science, technology and energy.[2]

In 2016, the US is Malaysia's third largest export market in terms of value while Malaysia is the US's 25th largest export destination.[3]

Country comparison[edit]

 Malaysia  United States
Population 27,500,000 325,478,000
Area 329,847 km² (127,355 sq mi) 9,826,630 km² (3,794,066 sq mi )
Population Density 83/km² (216/sq mi) 31/km² (80/sq mi)
Capital Kuala Lumpur Washington, D.C.
Largest City Kuala Lumpur – 1,887,674 (7,200,000 Metro) New York City – 8,214,426 (18,818,536 Metro)
Government Federal constitutional monarchy, parliamentary democracy Federal presidential, constitutional republic
First Leader Tunku Abdul Rahman George Washington
Current Leader Najib Razak (Prime Minister)

Muhammad V of Kelantan (Constitutional Monarch)

Donald Trump (President)
Official languages Malay language None at federal level (English de facto)
Official National Anthem Negaraku (My Country) The Star Spangled Banner
Main Religions 60.6% Islam, 19.1% Buddhism, 9.0% Christianity, 6.3% Hinduism, 2.6% traditional Chinese religions, 0.5% Judaism and 2% other religions 78% Christianity, 0.7% Buddhism, 1.2% Judaism, 0.8% Islam, 12% other religions/non-religious
GDP (nominal) $307.178 billion ($10,578 Per capita) $13.770 trillion ($44,190 Per Capita)


The United States has a long commercial interest in Malaysia, dating back since the 1800s when the territories now part of the Southeast Asian country were still under British colonial rule. While Malaysia through Malaya only established a diplomatic presence in the US beginning 1957, the US had consular posts in Malaya since the 1800s. Furthermore, the US appointed a consul in George Town, Penang in 1918 and established additional consular posts in Kuala Lumpur in 1948 and Kuching in 1968.[4] The US also had commercial interests in North Borneo in the 1800s. US merchant Joseph William Torrey through the American Trading Company of Borneo had a tract of land in western North Borneo, which was latter sold to Gustav Overbeck in 1876.

The ties between US and Malaysia are generally warm and the US had supported Malaysia during the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation, an armed conflict arising from Indonesian opposition to the formation of Malaysia. The conflict marked the first time the US had direct involvement in the political affairs of Malaysia[5]. The US also played a role in the liberation of Southeast Asia from Japanese occupation during the Second World War.

Political relations became strained under the rule of Mahathir bin Mohamad. Tun Dr. Mahathir ruled from 1981 until 2003 and was critical of the foreign policy of the United States, especially the foreign policy of the George W. Bush administration. Nevertheless, diplomatic relations between the two nations did not prevent United States from being one of the largest trading partners for Malaysia during Tun Dr. Mahathir's tenure. The US was, and still is one of the largest trading partners for Malaysia and is traditionally considered to be Malaysia's closest ally.

In 2002, Malaysia-US Friendship Council was established to strengthen the friendship between the Malaysian government and the US government. Datuk Amin Mohd Noor, Chairman of the International Multilateral Partnership Against Cyber Threats (IMPACT), was appointed as the Secretary-General for this council. The council is headquartered in Washington D.C and sponsored by leading Malaysian companies to offer advice on matters relating to bilateral relationship between the two countries.[6]

Two-way diplomatic ties between the two sovereign nations have thawed and subsequently warmed under the helm of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak's administration. This led to US President Barack Obama's official visit to Malaysia in April 2014, the first visit by a sitting US President since 1966. President Obama and Prime Minister Najib issued a joint statement that, among other things, elevated the US-Malaysia relationship to a comprehensive partnership. Malaysia is currently pursuing the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty with the support of the US.

Currently, Malaysia and US continue to enjoy warm relations. Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and former US President Barack Obama are known to be close personal friends. On Christmas Eve 2014, both leaders played golf together at Obama's home state of Hawaii.[7]

Trade and investment[edit]

The earliest significant economic relations between the territories now part of Malaysia, in particular Malaya, and the United States involved the production and trade of tin and rubber. Malaya at one time was the largest single producer of both commodities and the US was the largest importer of Malayan tin. By 1917, rubber became Malaya's most important exports and the US absorbed 77% of Malaya's total rubber production. The great demand for rubber was due to the rising production of automobile in Malaysia.[8]

The United States is the largest foreign investor in Malaysia. While figures capturing the full range of foreign investment (including oil and gas) are not available, American companies are particularly active in the energy, electronics, and manufacturing sectors and employ nearly 200,000 Malaysian workers. The cumulative value of US private investment in the manufacturing sector in Malaysia is roughly $15 billion.

In the 1970s, American companies, including Agilent AMD, Fairchild Semiconductor, Freescale, Intel, Texas Instruments and Western Digital pioneered the Malaysian electrical and electronics (E&E) sector, which exports billions of dollars of equipment to global supply chains every year. Major US oil and gas companies, including ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Hess and Murphy Oil, have invested billions of dollars to develop Malaysia’s energy resources. Recent US investors include Hershey, Kellogg, Bose and Darden.

Malaysian investment in the United States is small but growing, particularly in leisure, gaming and biotechnology. Significant Malaysian companies operating in the United States include Genting's Resort World Casino and MOL Global, a New York Stock Exchange listed company.

The United States is Malaysia's fourth largest trading partner and Malaysia is the 22nd largest trading partner of the US Annual two-way trade in goods and services in 2013 amounted to approximately $44 billion. The United States and Malaysia launched negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement in June 2005 but did not conclude an agreement after eight rounds of talks.

In 2010, Malaysia joined the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam in negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) (Japan subsequently joined the negotiations in 2013). This agreement seeks to expand market access, strengthen intellectual property protections, and support high labour and environmental standards while fostering greater economic integration among participants. The United States has since left the TPP.


The United States and Malaysia enjoy strong security co-operation. Malaysia hosts the Southeast Asia Regional Center for Counterterrorism (SEARCCT), where over 2000 officials from various countries have received training. The United States is among the foreign countries that has collaborated with the center in conducting capacity building programmes. The US and Malaysia share a strong military-to-military relationship with numerous exchanges, training, joint exercises, and visits.[citation needed]

Malaysia’s Peacekeeping Center provides pre-deployment training to Malaysian and other peacekeepers before deployment on UN missions. Through the Global Peace Operations Initiative, the United States provided support for the Malaysian Peacekeeping Center.

During President Obama’s April 2014 visit, Malaysia joined the Proliferation Security Initiative.

Official visits[edit]

American president George W. Bush meets with Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi of Malaysia during Bush's visit to New York City for the United Nations General Assembly, 18 September 2006.

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and President Barack Obama met just before the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on 12 April 2010. This meeting was thought by many to represent a significant improvement in US-Malaysia relations. This was their first one-on-one meeting. During their talk Obama sought further assistance from Malaysia in stemming nuclear proliferation which Obama described as the greatest threat to world security.[9] In June 2009 Najib and Obama discussed via telephone the global financial crisis, nuclear non-proliferation issues and two Malaysians detained at Guantanamo.[10] During the summit Najib stressed that Malaysia only supported nuclear programmes designed for peaceful purposes. Najib's attendance at the summit was part of a week-long official visit to the United States.[11]

On 21 October 2013, Secretary Of State, John Kerry and Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker visited Kuala Lumpur to participate in the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. Secretary Kerry visited Malaysia again from 4 to 6 August 2015 to attend the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) .

On 26 April 2014, President Barack Obama made a state visit to Malaysia. He is the second US President to visit Malaysia since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966.

The following are senior US diplomats and politicians who have visited Malaysia:

  • US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Kuala Lumpur in July 2006.
  • US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a 3-day bilateral visit to Kuala Lumpur in November 2010.
  • US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Malaysia in November 2010.
  • US Attorney General Eric Holder visited Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in July 2012.[12]
  • US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel visited Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in August 2013.
  • US Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew visited Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in November 2013.
  • US Trade Representative Michael Froman visited Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on four occasions, most recently in July 2014.
  • US Congress bipartisan delegation led by Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee visited Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in February 2015.

Public opinion[edit]

According to global opinion polls, only 27% of Malaysians viewed the US favorably in 2007, likely due to disapproval of US foreign policy against fellow Islamic nations. However, as of 2013, 55% of Malaysians view the US favorably, declining somewhat down to 51% in 2014. According to the same poll conducted in 2014, 54% of Malaysians had confidence that former U.S. President Barack Obama would do the right thing in international affairs.[13] According to the 2012 US Global Leadership Report, 34% of Malaysians approved of US leadership, with 31% disapproving and 35% uncertain.[14]

Diplomatic missions[edit]

American embassy to Malaysia[edit]

The United States embassy in Kuala Lumpur

The American embassy in Malaysia is located in Jalan Tun Razak, Kuala Lumpur. The Principal US Embassy Officials include:

  • Ambassador – Joseph Y. Yun
  • Deputy Chief of Mission – Edgard D. Kagan
  • Political Counselor- Tressa Finerty
  • Economic Counselor – Andrew R. Herrup
  • Public Affairs Counselor – Frank J Whitaker
  • Consul - Wendy Vincent
  • Management Counselor – James Kent Stiegler
  • Defense Attaché – John Segura
  • Commercial Counselor – Stephen Jacques
  • Agricultural Attaché – Chris Rittgers

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Policy & History US Embassy in Malaysia
  2. ^ Joint Statement By President Obama And Prime Minister Najib Of Malaysia The White House
  3. ^ Trade Map International Trade Centre
  4. ^ "History of the U.S. and Malaysia". 2017-12-14. Retrieved 2017-12-14. 
  5. ^ "Malaysian-American Relations during Indonesia's Confrontation against Malaysia, 1963-66". 1988-03-01. Retrieved 2017-12-14. 
  6. ^ "Management Team | About Us - IMPACT". 2014-11-28. Retrieved 2016-09-16. 
  7. ^ Nakamura, David (1970-01-01). "In Hawaii, Obama golfs with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-09-16. 
  8. ^ Yacob, Shakila (2008-05-27). The United States and the Malaysian Economy. Routledge. p. 21. ISBN 1134084463. 
  9. ^ [Najib Attends Nuclear Security Summit, by Tham Choy Lin, Bernama, 13 April 2010]
  10. ^ [ Najib and Obama in historic bilateral meeting, by LIM AI LEE, The Star, 13 April 2010]
  11. ^ [Najib-Obama historic meeting in Washington, The Malaysian Mirror, 13 April 2010]
  12. ^ "Readout of Attorney General Eric Holder's Meeting and MoU Signing with Malaysian Minister for Home Affairs | OPA | Department of Justice". 2012-07-17. Retrieved 2016-09-16. 
  13. ^ "Home - Indicators Database | Pew Research Center". Retrieved 2016-09-16. 
  14. ^ U.S. Global Leadership Project Report - 2012 Gallup

External links[edit]

Media related to Malaysia – United States relations at Wikimedia Commons

 This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Department of State website (Background Notes). [1]