The U.S. established diplomatic relations with Malaysia in 1957, following its independence from the United Kingdom, but has had a consular or commercial presence in the area comprising modern day Malaysia since the 1800s. The U.S. and Malaysia elevated the bilateral relationship to a Comprehensive Partnership in April 2014. Today, Malaysia is a significant regional and global partner for the U.S., and the two countries share a diverse and expanding partnership in trade, investment, security, environmental cooperation, and educational and cultural relations. Economic ties are robust, and there is a long history of people-to-people exchanges. Malaysia has a diverse democracy and is an important partner in U.S. engagement with Southeast Asia. The two countries cooperate closely on security matters, including counter-terrorism, maritime domain awareness, and regional stability and participate frequently in bilateral and multilateral training, exercises, and visits.
U.S. Assistance to Malaysia
U.S. assistance to Malaysia focuses on education, exchanges, cultural heritage preservation, counterterrorism, non-proliferation, and security cooperation. The U.S. Fulbright English Teaching Assistant program in Malaysia is among the largest in the world, helping improve the English language skills of thousands of Malaysian secondary school students. Exchange programs promote engagement with secondary school and undergraduate students, Fulbright Scholars, agricultural fellows, and participants of sports and cultural programs. In 2014 President Obama announced additional exchange programs, grant opportunities and fellowships for youth ages 18 – 35 under the Young Southeast Asian Young Leaders Initiative (YSEALI). There are over 6,000 alumni of Department of State-sponsored exchange programs in Malaysia. Since 2001, the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) has supported 10 projects to support the preservation of cultural heritage in Malaysia. The U.S. supports Malaysia’s counterterrorism efforts through information sharing, capacity building programs for law enforcement and judicial authorities, and assistance to improve immigration security and border controls. The U.S. also works with the Malaysian government and civil society actors on programs to counter violent extremism. Non-proliferation assistance aims at enhancing Malaysia’s ability to enforce its laws on shipments and trans-shipments of controlled munitions, dual-use commodities, and weapons of mass destruction and related commodities. Security cooperation and training builds capabilities among Malaysia’s armed forces and coast guard, allowing it to take on an expanded international role, including peacekeeping operations.
Bilateral Economic Relations
The U.S. and Malaysia meet frequently to discuss bilateral trade and investment issues and to coordinate approaches on APEC, ASEAN, and the WTO. Bilateral trade in goods with the U.S. was $50.2 billion in 2017. Malaysia is the United States’ 19th largest trading partner and the second-largest trading partner among the 10 ASEAN members in Southeast Asia. The U.S. is Malaysia’s fourth-largest trading partner. U.S. exports to Malaysia include machinery, aircraft, agricultural products, optic and medical instruments, and iron and steel. U.S. imports from Malaysia include machinery, agricultural products, and optic and medical instruments. The U.S. continues to hold the largest stock of foreign investment into Malaysia, with several new investments in 2015. Reported U.S. foreign direct investment in Malaysia is led by the manufacturing, banking, and oil and gas sectors. Malaysian foreign direct investment in the U.S. is led by the real estate, gaming, biotechnology and wholesale trade sectors.