Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razzak is widely accused of cracking down on opponents and free expression since an election setback in 2013, which critics say has accelerated following the eruption this year of a corruption scandal linked to him.
US President Barack Obama said he would raise democracy and free-speech concerns with Malaysia’s leader as he seeks to strike a balance with a country Washington is courting as a regional ally.
OBAMA arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Friday afternoon for a weekend summit of Asia-Pacific leaders, and was to meet in the evening with Prime Minister Najib Razak, the gathering’s host.
Obama has touted Malaysia as an important partner as Washington seeks to shore up regional alliances amid worries over China’s rise, and as a party to the US-led 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.
The pair even bonded privately as golf buddies last December in Hawaii.
But actions by Najib and his government have brought the relationship under the microscope, and triggered accusations that Washington was putting geopolitics ahead of core US democratic principles.
It was revealed in July that nearly $700 million in mysterious deposits were made to Najib’s personal bank accounts, which followed earlier accusations that huge sums were missing from a state company he launched.
Najib denies wrongdoing but has stayed silent on the source and purpose of the money, while clamping down on critics over the affair including firing Malaysia’s attorney general and his own deputy premier.