This weekend, U.S. President Barack Obama will make a historic visit to Malaysia as part of his four-country, eight-day trip to Asia –a do-over of a regional tour he missed last October due to a government shutdown. While his visit, the first by a U.S. president in nearly half a century, is an occasion to cement cooperation with an emerging American partner, it is also an opportunity to speak honestly with Malaysian officials about the differences both countries have and to address the Malaysian people more generally in light of the country’s troubling domestic politics.
In 1966, when then U.S. President Lyndon Johnson visited Malaysia, the country was touted as a model nation which had successfully defeated a communist insurgency and embarked on the road to economic development. Secretary of State Dean Rusk, in a memo to the president prepared before the trip, called Malaysia “something of an economic and political showpiece in Southeast Asia.” Johnson himself, in a glowing tribute to the country at Subang International Airport, called it “a model of what may be done by determined and farsighted men in Southeast Asia and in other parts of the world.”
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