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Malaysia follows Duterte’s pivot to China

BEIJING, China (AFP) – Malaysia’s prime minister began yesterday an official visit to China where he will sign a “significant defense deal,” in a potential strategic shift as his ties with the United States fray over a corruption scandal.

The week-long trip by Prime Minister Najib Razak marks another potential blow for Washington’s “pivot” toward Asia, two weeks after President Rodrigo Duterte of longtime US ally the Philippines visited China with olive branch in hand.

Malaysia and China will be finalizing “the first significant defense deal” between the two countries during his visit, Najib told Chinese state news agency Xinhua, giving no details.

A total of 10 agreements spanning business, defense, and other spheres will be signed, Malaysia has said.

Najib said last week Malaysia and China “are committed to achieving new highs and entering into new areas of cooperation.”

Last month in Beijing, Philippine President Duterte stunned observers by announcing his country’s “separation” from longstanding partner the United States.

Though he subsequently backed off, saying their alliance remained intact, the episode underlined China’s increasing diplomatic and economic gravitational pull at the expense of the United States.

Najib’s visit provides fresh evidence, said Southeast Asia politics analyst Bridget Welsh.

“This is the new regional norm. Now China is implementing the power and the US is in retreat,” she said. Washington’s Asia pivot is was “dead in the water,” she added.