KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wrapped up an overnight visit to Malaysia on Wednesday, ending a Southeast Asia tour aimed at signaling President Donald Trump’s commitment to the region.
Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi said in a statement they held talks Wednesday, centered on security issues including terrorism and human trafficking as well as bilateral and international issues. Tillerson then met with U.S. embassy staff before heading to Washington. He had met Prime Minister Najib Razak after arriving late Tuesday from Bangkok.
Malaysia’s relations with the U.S. had warmed after Najib took office in 2009 but he has increasingly leaned toward China, which had become Malaysia’s biggest trading partner. That’s been especially true since a massive corruption scandal erupted two years ago, implicating Najib and a state investment fund he founded.
Billions are alleged to have been syphoned from the fund, 1MDB, in a stunning international campaign of embezzlement and money laundering that has sparked investigations in several countries.
Najib’s ties with Washington became strained when the U.S. Justice Department moved last year to seize more than $1 billion in assets it said were purchased by Najib’s relatives and associates using stolen 1MDB money. Najib has denied any wrongdoing.
Tillerson had earlier visited Thailand, and attended regional meetings in the Philippines that focused heavily on North Korea’s push to advance its nuclear weapons and missile programs. In his visits to Thailand and Malaysia, he had also urged both countries to maintain pressure on Pyongyang to drop its nuclear weapons program.
Tillerson was the first top U.S. official to visit Thailand since the nation’s military seized power from an elected civilian government three years ago, causing relations with the United States to sour.
Thailand, like other Southeast Asian countries, has also been cultivating closer ties with China, causing consternation in Washington. The Thai position has been seen as both a rebuke to Washington and an accommodation to Beijing’s aggressive carrot-and-stick diplomacy, which includes both the blandishment of massive infrastructure development projects linking the region and intimidation through naval moves to promote Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.