Last month, President Barack Obama engaged in an unexpected exercise in bilateral relationship building when Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak joined him for a round of golf at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. The outing came on the heels of President Obama’s trip to Malaysia last April, making him the first sitting American president to visit the country since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966.
As it assumes the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, Malaysia will have an outsized regional presence throughout 2015 and become a focus of the United States’ engagement in Asia. While all ASEAN chairs host a raft of meetings and work incrementally to deepen ties among the members, 2015 is a watershed year for ASEAN: The 10 ASEAN nations have committed to transforming into one “ASEAN Community” with three pillars—cohesive action on political and security affairs, deeper economic integration, and greater sociocultural cooperation—by December 31, 2015. As chair, it falls to Malaysia to make this vision of an integrated ASEAN Community a reality.
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