MALAYSIA’s bilateral relationship with the United States has improved over the years under Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and US President Barrack Obama, especially in the fight against terrorism, such as the threat of the Islamic State (IS) and the stance taken by Malaysia based on moderation.
In an exclusive interview with thesundaypost recently, US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur deputy chief of mission Edgard Kagan, who has served in Malaysia since July 25, 2014, discussed a wide range of issues vital to the bilateral ties of the two nations.
Q: What’s your comment on the Lincoln Corner in our State Library?
We love it. I was incredibly impressed with the set up in the state library. We are extremely lucky to have a capable partner here. It reflects that the library is extremely committed to this and sees it as a priority. From our point of view. Lincoln Corner is a resource we want to use more and that’s the thing that we are working on with the ETAs right now.
Q: What’s the latest on the Peace Corps?
It was closed down some 20 years ago. Our present ETA programme is designed a little bit to replicate what the Peace Corps did. But I am amazed with its impact and somehow we want the ETA programme to have that kind of impact but ETA is very focused on the teaching of English.
Q: What’s the number of Malaysian students pursuing their studies in the US and what are some of the salient points of your education system?
Currently some 7,000 Malaysians study in the US and we think that the number is lower than it should be. But one thing that struck me in my short time here in Malaysia is how many people I have met whether in business, academia or government, who studied in the US in the 70s and 80s have a very strong network among themselves and I am incredibly happy about that.
I think the number has gone down and we want to see the number grows. Obviously Malaysia has a lot of choices in education and we recognise that people make decisions for a lot of reasons having to do with the systems, cost, distance, etc. We recognise that there are many Malaysians who want to study here in Malaysia and some of the others want to study overseas such as in the UK and Australia. But we really want to think that both countries will benefit if more Malaysians study in the US.
We have a wide range of choices that make the US different from most other countries. There is a wide range of institutions of higher learning ranging from specialisation in all sorts of subjects, some are big and some are small, in big cities and small towns.
I mean there is an incredible range of schools in the US. What I told Malaysians is that you will definitely find that you could fit into a wide range of choices and also the US culture is very different but at the same time, I think a lot of Malaysians find how comfortable they feel to study in the US.
I think they find it very different from what they expect but Malaysians have a great reputation as students and when people go to US, they are by and large very good students and they are doing very well when they are there.
I think they are very comfortable when they are there because the US is a lot like Malaysia because it’s multi-ethnic, multicultural, multi-religious where there is a wide range of schools and you can find people believing in anything and the country is pretty religious.
So whatever your religion is, you can find places where you can go to such as mosques, churches or temples. I think also that when people go to the US, they will do well when they come back to Malaysia. Well, people studying in other places will also do well but what I am saying is that our education system prepares people well in complex groups and challenges such as in academics, professional and social.
I think these people will do very well. The truth is I don’t study in Australia and I don’t live in the UK and I am not going to compare that but I can tell you that people who went to the US do pretty well when they come back because they are very well prepared.
Q: Is the US still the leading country in terms of ICT?
I think it’s very important to compare the software and the hardware. I think it’s very clear that the cutting edge, the use of technology is still in the US. I mean the good example is iPhones.
Even though iPhones may be produced in China but the reality is that all the designs as well as the marketing; the software comes from the US. And it’s done by people from all over the world. And one thing that we are very lucky in the US is the fact that we attract the best students and professionals from around the world to work in our companies.
Q: How about the current cooperation between Malaysia and the US in terms of defence?
We have some joint projects together. These have been in weapons procurement in the past but also the Malaysian government has bought technology that allows for the local production for example in the case of riffles for the Malaysian army.
We see the potential of growth. Malaysia faces a lot of challenges especially its defence budget and obviously one challenge in the defence technology is the significance in the upfront commitment of resources and that also puts constraint on Malaysia.
But I think there are areas of potential for cooperation where we’d like to do more. More broadly we want to see a security relationship on areas of tremendous stride and there has been always strong and close relations since the time Malaysia was formed.
But we see a significant change in the last few tears and we are very grateful to the Malaysian government in our military training with our Malaysian counterparts and we believe that the Malaysian counterparts also learn through us.
And it’s expanding because both countries benefit by doing more together. And both countries recognise that a strong defence relationship helps to pressure peace and stability in the region and that’s very important to the Asean region as a whole.
Q: And how about the procurement of defence assets such as submarines, fighter planes and weapons from the US?
Well if you buy them from us it’s a practical matter depending on what kind of submarines you want to buy. But I mean in purchasing of weapons in the coming decades such as multi-role combat aircraft that have been in the horizon for a very long time and we believe that we are a strong candidate for that.
And what we learn together is the value of capacity and the value of our understanding of the American defence system. And one thing that’s worth noting is when there is a real challenge, which country can they rely on and when you look at our relations, we have been a reliable partner to Malaysia over the years in a lot of different areas including security and defence.
Q: Is Malaysia a strong and strategic partner of the US to curb the threat of IS?
Yes, absolutely. Look we have an absolutely good relationship with the Malaysian government on a lot of issues. But I can’t think of any issue which emerges more than anything else than the threat of IS. And the Malaysian government has made a very strong public commitment and we have our excellent cooperation on a lot of different issues, ranging from law enforcement, to defence and to security.
All these areas, we are working very closely together and we see the Malaysian government as a strong partner, which is very committed to finding ways to respond to the threat of IS.
And as a chair of Asean, Malaysia is playing a unique role in the Security Council. And that’s why we are very grateful to the Malaysian government and its leaders for the steps that they have taken.
Q: Will Malaysians be considered in US space missions in future?
I saw that question and honestly, I have no idea on how the stuff is done and how they are selecting the crews. But what I can say is that we are very eager to cooperate with Malaysia in whatever we can.