More military exercises with US sought

But KL opposes any plans for a permanent US military base in South-east Asia

MALAYSIA welcomed an increase in technology transfer and joint military exercises with the United States as a new basis for future Asean-US defence ties.

But it opposed any plans for a permanent American military base in South-east Asia, said Malaysian Defence Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

“Permanent bases are the legacies of the old mindset during the Cold War era. There is no need for a US base anywhere in this region,” he said.

Datuk Najib told The Straits Times in an interview on Thursday that Asia’s strategic environment in the post-Cold War era was “benign” in outlook and so did not merit a permanent US base.

Moreover, advanced airlift and sealift capabilities of US forces would ensure that American presence would be projected in the region without the need to find a new base, he said.

He warned that Asean countries should not depend too heavily on the US as Washington faced budgetary constraints.

“The burden of defence will shift more and more to national governments,” he said.

“This is a trend which is unavoidable.”

He explained that regional stability could then be greatly enhanced through increased joint military exercises between Asean member countries and the US and transfer of advanced technology.

Through technology transfer, for example, Washington was providing the means to increase the defence capabilities of countries in the region, he said.

Datuk Najib said that his biggest achievement since assuming the Defence Minister’s post in 1990 was building up Malaysia’s military capability through weapons purchases.

Malaysia had beefed up its armed forces by buying anti-tank missiles, frigates equipped with advanced defence systems and fighter aircraft, he said.

He added that the biggest challenge facing the Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) today was transforming it from a counter-insurgency outfit into a conventional fighting force.

Besides acquiring arms, this goal required training, recruiting and retaining manpower to operate sophisticated weapons, he said.

“I have put the process along probably an irreversible path. We have gone very far down the road and this will continue in years to come.”

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