Thomas Daniel was quoted in Bernama article.

Article by Voon Miaw Ping,  17 February 2021

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb.17 — Malaysia’s bilateral relations with the United States (US) is expected to remain strong and continue to be mutually beneficial under President Joe Biden’s administration.

Analyst Thomas Daniel said this is because the relationship is largely managed by professional diplomats and technocrats which accounts for its functionality and effectiveness for both parties.

“The good thing about the US-Malaysia bilateral relationship is that it is low-key and deep-rooted enough to weather (any) changes both in (Washington) DC and Putrajaya.

“From a broad regional perspective, it is in Malaysia’s interest to have a proactive, productive, and constructive US presence in the Asia-Pacific,” he told Bernama in an interview recently.

He added that even though there may be potential “speed bumps” in the bilateral relations, they can be managed by both sides as has been done in the past.

Malaysia and the US have formally established diplomatic relations in 1957. In April 2014, both countries have elevated the bilateral relationship to a Comprehensive Partnership.

Thomas, who is a fellow (Foreign Policy & Security Studies) of the Institute of Strategic & International  Studies (ISIS) Malaysia, said with the new US administration, which seems to be more proactive in its commitment to multilateral approaches, the US might engage in more consultations with ASEAN claimant states to the South China Sea and with ASEAN itself.

“The Biden administration has indicated an alliance-building focused approach. The world would expect to see a more proactive and engaged US, especially on and across multilateral platforms and mechanisms,” he said.

He said it is also important for the Biden administration to elevate the engagement with the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), not for the purpose of containing China, but as a constructive player to the regional grouping especially in providing practical options and avenues for cooperation.

Although the ASEAN region was not specifically mentioned, Biden – in his first foreign policy speech on Feb 4 – had labelled China as US’ ‘most serious competitor’, adding that his administration will take on directly the challenges posed by China.

“We’ll confront China’s economic abuses, counter its aggressive course of action to push back on China’s attack on human rights, intellectual property and global governance,” Biden had said.

On the South China Sea issue, Thomas opined that it is expected to continue to be a key focus under the new US administration in this region, adding that the dispute will continue to be subsumed within US-China strategic competition, further narrowing the options for Southeast Asian claimant states and ASEAN.

“One of the few things that see bipartisan support in the US now is its perception of the potential threat posed by China as a revisionist power with hegemonic ambitions,” he said.

Hence, he said the US is also likely to increase their freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) and overflight operations in the contested water.

At the same time, the US is expected to further its public commitments to the Philippines, he added.

The South China Sea conflict involved overlapping territorial claims by four ASEAN countries – Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. China and Taiwan had also laid their claims in South China Sea, known for its marine, hydrocarbon and mineral resources as well as its vital shipping lanes.

However, the conflict was further complicated by the rivalry between China and the US, which have grown intense in recent years – with both sides accusing each other of aggressively advancing power and influence through military might.

This article was first published in Bernama on 17 February 2021

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