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Can Malaysia and Thailand Afford Not to back U.S. Led Unified North Korea Strategy

The Southeast Asian nations of Malaysia and Thailand are waiting to see what the Trump administration has in store for them regarding their relationships. They’ll soon get their answers. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is visiting the two countries sometime between August 5 and August 9. The biggest question is whether or not the nations will back Trump’s agenda item of putting a stop to North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Neither Malaysia nor Thailand may be able to offer that. The U.S. lost leverage with Thailand when the country shifted to military rule in 2014. Although it hasn’t yet restored full democracy, the U.S. State Department refers to Thailand as a key U.S. security ally in Asia and doesn’t want it to build relations with China. Malaysia looks to the U.S. to counterbalance its growing economic dependence on China, and thus the government of that nation wants to remain friendly to the U.S. However, if a 2007 survey still holds true, 75 percent of the citizens of the largely Muslim nation don’t like America—a percentage that has most likely risen since President Trump tried to bar Muslims from other nations from entering the United States. Whether or not Thailand and Malaysia have any pull with North Korea is another question. They are not major regional powers like China. If any action on North Korea were to come, it would probably be in the form of a joint statement from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)—of which Malaysia and Thailand are members—urging restraint by all parties. However, as Sean King, Senior Vice President of Park Strategies, says, North Korea does have diplomatic ties with 10 ASEAN members and maintains embassies in eight. Malaysia has extra special relations with North Korea, as Kim Jong-un’s brother was physically there—until he was suddenly killed in February. “I hope Secretary Tillerson will urge Manila, Kuala Lumpur, and Bangkok to break all diplomatic and business ties with North Korea,” said King.   Read the full story here.    

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