US-Malaysia Military Ties in Focus with Defense Ministerial Meeting

A look at the significance of a recent engagement between the two sides for broader bilateral ties.

US-Malaysia Military Ties in Focus with Defense Ministerial Meeting
Credit: Twitter/US Dept of Defense

On Monday, the United States and Malaysia held a ministerial-level bilateral meeting in Washington, D.C. The holding of the meeting put the spotlight on the continued cooperation on the defense side between the two countries amid the new change in government in Malaysia that just took place in May.

As I have noted before in these pages, despite some lingering differences, the United States and Malaysia have enjoyed a defense relationship, as manifested across a range of areas such as counterterrorism and maritime security, and through a variety of means including visits, exchanges, and exercises. Yet further questions have been raised about the exact future shape of defense collaboration following a new government coming to power in May in Malaysia (See: “What Does Malaysia’s Shock Election Result Mean for its Future?“).

U.S.-Malaysia defense relations had already gotten underway early on through a series of interactions by both sides. This included the meeting between Malaysia’s Defense Minister Mohamad Sabu and U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore back in June, as well as regularly scheduled engagements including exercises and exchanges at various levels.

On Monday, the defense aspect of ties was in the headlines again when Mohamad met with Mattis in Washington, D.C. Mohamad had made the working visit while also accompanying a Malaysian delegation with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to the United Nations General Assembly from September 25 to September 29.

At the official meeting at the Pentagon, both sides expressed their desire to continue advancing defense ties based on mutual interests and values, and discussed potential avenues for advancing that process as well. Few additional specifics were disclosed by both sides on the meeting. But as the United States and Malaysia continue to find opportunities to further their defense ties under the new government, such interactions will remain useful to watch to get a sense for the future shape of defense collaboration.