WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry will push Malaysia to redouble its efforts against human trafficking during an upcoming visit for regional security talks, a senior State Department official said Friday.
Kerry’s visit, starting Wednesday, comes a week after the department faced a storm of protest for lifting Malaysia off its trafficking blacklist. U.S. lawmakers and human rights activists say the decision was intended to smooth the way for a trade agreement among 12 Pacific rim nations, including Malaysia.
The official said Malaysia needs to do much more, expanding prosecutions and meeting standards laid out in U.S. anti-trafficking legislation. The official briefed reporters on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the department.
Like neighboring Thailand, Malaysia has faced international criticism over its treatment of millions of migrants from poorer countries, and over the plight of stateless Rohingya Muslims trafficked from Myanmar and Bangladesh aboard overcrowded boats. Dozens of graves as well as pens likely used as cages for Rohingya have been found in abandoned jungle camps on both sides of the Thai-Malaysian border.
Kerry is visiting Malaysia for annual security talks between the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and its international partners. Those talks are expected to focus on China’s island-building in the disputed South China Sea, which has rattled China’s neighbors and strained relations between Washington and Beijing.
Kerry, who starts his travels in the Mideast, will also visit Singapore and Vietnam.
The U.S. official said Kerry, while in Malaysia, will steer clear of the domestic political scandal that has embroiled Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is facing allegations that some $700 million from a state investment fund went into his personal bank accounts. He says he has never used state money for personal gain.
Najib recently fired the attorney general who had been investigating him and a deputy who has been among his most prominent critics.