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Recognizing the 50th Anniversary of Malaysia's Independence

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

RECOGNIZING THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF MALAYSIA'S INDEPENDENCE -- (House of Representatives - September 17, 2007)


Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of House Resolution 518, recognizing the 50th anniversary of Malaysian independence.

In this regard, I would like to recognize Representative Meeks and Mr. Sessions for their longstanding interest in Malaysia and in expanding economic, political, and people-to-people ties with that important Southeast Asian country.

This year, Malaysia celebrates the 50th anniversary of its independence from Britain as well as the 50th anniversary of U.S.-Malaysia diplomatic relations. Malaysia has earned the reputation of being a moderate majority-Muslim democratic state and has integrated itself into the world economy while maintaining a multi-faith, multi-ethnic society. While recognizing Malaysia's achievements and regional, as well as global, influence, however, it is important to note several areas of concern both for Malaysia's people and the international community.

Malaysia has an established record of tolerance and respect among its varied religious and ethnic populations. However, recent reports raise troubling concerns as to whether the rights of religious and racial minorities are being threatened. For example, the May 30, 2007, decision by the Malaysian Federal Court in the apostasy case of Lina Joy has troubling implications for the question as to whether shari'a law takes precedence over civil law in matters of religious conversion. There are indications that this and other court rulings are eroding the constitutional rights of minorities, which in turn is aggravating a growing socio-religious divide in the country.

The resolution we are considering references the Prime Minister's condemnation of those seeking to incite racial and religious hatred. While commendable, the fact that the Prime Minister perceived it necessary to make this commendation only reinforces the growing perception that the government needs to be more vigilant to ensure that the rights of minorities in Malaysia are respected.

Another area of deep concern to me is in the area of human trafficking. Malaysia has progressively fallen in the tier rankings made by the State Department pursuant to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act until it reached tier 3 in 2007, and that is for the most egregious violators. According to the June 2007 Trafficking in Persons Report, Malaysia is failing to punish acts of trafficking, provide adequate shelters and social services to victims, protect its migrant workers from involuntary servitude, and prosecute traffickers who are arrested and detained under preventive laws. It is particularly disturbing that the Government of Malaysia recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Government of Indonesia that authorizes Malaysian employers to confiscate and hold the passport of Indonesian domestic employees throughout the term of their employment. Such authority could easily facilitate the involuntary servitude of domestic workers.

I would strongly encourage the Malaysian Government to take the opportunity on this 50th anniversary celebration of the country's independence to seriously address human trafficking so as to protect the rights of all individuals residing or transiting within its borders.

The United States and Malaysia have sometimes had sharp policy differences. Yet despite these occasional disagreements, this resolution points out that the U.S. and Malaysia have continued to work closely together in such important areas as counterterrorism, defense cooperation, counternarcotics, and trade. Bilateral relations have grown stronger in recent years, and we value their relationship. Nevertheless, we continue to have different perspectives on important issues of concern.

One of these relates to Iran. As my colleagues are aware, the United States remains opposed to foreign investment in Iran's oil and gas sector, including Malaysian investment, as a matter of law and policy. Congress and the executive branch must continue to emphasize our concerns about such investment and related financial ties and to oppose business as usual with Iran. It is critical that the world community, including Malaysia, joins us in persuading Tehran to end its nuclear weapons program.

In addition, U.S. authorities have recently uncovered a number of plots to transship weapons technology and sensitive dual-use goods through Malaysia to Iran. This, together with past evidence of a Malaysian company's involvement in A.Q. Khan's clandestine nuclear proliferation network, point to an urgent need for Malaysia to implement reforms to its export controls. The failure to rein in proliferators not only endangers international security, but could also imperil legitimate trade. Thus, it would be in the country's best interest, as well as that of the international community, for Malaysia to enact a world-class export control system.

Another concern involves relations with the State of Israel. Although Malaysia is not a member of the League of Arab States, it appears to share much of the league's anti-Zionist ideology. Indeed, Kuala Lumpur does not maintain diplomatic relations with Israel.

A 2006 Congressional Research Service report on the then-proposed U.S.-Malaysia FTA pointed out that Kuala Lumpur appeared to be a de facto supporter of the trade embargo against Israel. In point of fact, Malaysia conducts virtually no trade with Israel.

The absence of normal commercial ties with Israel, let alone formal diplomatic relations, presents a stunningly awkward circumstance, one I hope Malaysian leaders would find time to reflect upon and to correct.

In conclusion, while I join this body in welcoming this 50th anniversary of Malaysian independence, I would simply note that U.S.-Malaysian relations could become even more constructive and mutually beneficial if Kuala Lumpur would take action to address these ongoing issues of concern


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