Anisah Shukry Published Updated
INTERVIEW Critics have declared
that a Donald Trump victory at next month's United States presidential
elections would usher “the end of the world”.
His foreign policies, which include “extreme vetting” of Muslims
coming to the US, are ever-changing – raising the question of how
Malaysia, as a key Islamic ally, would be impacted.
But Malaysia has little to worry about, according to outgoing US
ambassador to Malaysia Joseph Y Yun, who steps down on Friday after
three years in the post.
In US politics, Congress will keep a hypothetical “President Trump”
in check - and Yun said the Congress is very clear about their stand
“You've seen congressional delegates who come here, they're both
Republicans and Democrats, all very, very loudly endorsing the
administration's (present) Asia policy.
“So, unlike some other parts of the world where there may be partisan
views, (when it comes to) Asia in general, Southeast Asia in
particular, (the views) have been bi-partisan.
“So I'm quite confident. Whoever is elected, whether a Democrat or a
Republican, our fundamental policy towards Asia will not change,” Yun
told Malaysiakini in an interview at his office in Kuala Lumpur.
This includes the 'Rebalance to Asia' policy of the US, which is
about committing more resources to the region, military and civilian, he
The killing of the TPPA
But what about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), of which Malaysia is a signatory?
Trump and Secretary Hillary Clinton are against the trade pact -
Clinton, often viewed as the safer option of the two, even said she
would 'kill' the deal if elected president.
However, Yun said he was very confident that the TPPA would not be called off.
President Barack Obama had often said he would like to work on the
ratification of the TTPA by the US Congress before he leaves office in
January next year, said Yun.
And there will be big push for the TPPA's ratification when the US congress convenes again early next month, explained Yun.
“If it goes beyond that period, we'll see. I don't think it's a
foregone conclusion, at all, that either Mr Trump, or Secretary Clinton,
will ultimately kill it,” he said.
“Certainly, 12 countries have negotiated a very, very good
agreement... So, certainly, I would like to see the agreement go
“It would create more jobs, more exports, more opportunity for, really, all the 12 countries in the region.”
Below are excerpts from the interview, edited for clarity:
One of your predecessors, John R Mallot, has been critical of
the Malaysian government. Has that put you in a difficult position, and
has Putrajaya expressed concern?
We all have views, and once we retire, generally you're free to
express your views, and John is a good friend, but he has strong views
about Malaysia, and he makes it known.
There are NGOs that also make their views very clear, for example,
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. So I would say they belong
to the same group - a bit of a watchdog, and wanting to make sure that
what you call the moral standard is applied and criticised.
Not just Malaysian governments, but they are big critics of the
governments in Thailand, Cambodia, China. That's their job. My job is to
build relationships, their job is to criticise.
Has it been tough for you?
No. I think when you have an honest dialogue with them, they understand. And it's not been tough at all.
How has human rights in Malaysia fared in your three years of service?
This is an issue that happened in every country I worked at. Of
course, US is a big upholder of human rights, but at the same time I'm
very mindful that we also have our own issues.
One example being the Guantanamo facilities. So, I do very much
believe personally that people who live in glass houses shouldn't be
Each country must deal with their problems on freedom issues, human
rights issues within their own capacity and constraints. And as long as I
lived here, I understand those constraints. And so of course we want to
see this democratic space increase. There's no question. However, we
have to be very mindful that we don't blindly criticise. That's not
So we try our best, working with Malaysia, to do what we can. One
example is trafficking in people. To work with them, both on the legal
side and getting a policy framework done, as well as on the
implementation side, working with NGOs that are working there, as well
as on the law enforcement side.
We realise this huge challenge here - this is a country whose economy
is much better than its neighbours, so its a magnet. So you cannot just
blindly say 'treat them all well' otherwise you will be inundated. So
how do you work in that space? For me, half my job is explaining to my
government what's going on, the other half is getting the two
governments together to work productively.
What do you think about Bersih, and how do you think a government should handle it?
country has their own constraints, their own systems, their own laws.
And so on the one part, those who are willing to make protests, make
their voices heard, must be consistent in that framework. It must be
legal, they must have permission if that's what's required.
So, within that, of course, as the American government, as a US
official, we would support freedom of expression. That's a fundamental
freedom of expression and so I have no problems saying that in any
place, anywhere in the world, freedom of expression is one of the
fundamental freedoms that people should have.
In Malaysia, there are caveats to that. We have the Peaceful
Assembly Act, where you have to give notice before that (assembly). Do
you think we need such restrictions?
Well, that's your law. And if you need to change it, you need to change it legally.