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Policy & History

The United States has had a consular or commercial presence in the area comprising modern- day Malaysia since the 1800’s. Following its independence from the United Kingdom, the United States officially established diplomatic relations with Malaysia in 1957. The United States and Malaysia elevated the bilateral relationship to a Comprehensive Partnership in April 2014.

Today, the United States and Malaysia share a diverse and expanding partnership in trade, investment, security, environmental cooperation, and educational and cultural relations. 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 counterterrorism, maritime domain awareness, and regional stability, and participate frequently in bilateral and multilateral training, exercises, and visits. Economic ties are robust, and there is a long history of people-to-people exchanges.

U.S. Assistance to Malaysia

U.S. assistance to Malaysia focuses on education, exchanges, counterterrorism, non-proliferation, security cooperation, and enhancing transparency, accountability and responsiveness of government. 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. Other exchange programs, such as the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), help empower emerging voices in government, civil society and business. There are over 6,000 alumni of Department of State-sponsored exchange programs in Malaysia. Through USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives’ Malaysia Reform Initiative, the U.S. Government partners with the Government of Malaysia, civil society, and other interested stakeholders to support a more democratic society including assistance to promote transparency, accountability and freedom of speech.

The United States 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 United States also partners with the Malaysian government and civil society organizations on programs and initiatives to counter the spread of violent extremism ideology. Non-proliferation assistance aims at enhancing Malaysia’s ability to enforce its export control laws to indict shipments and trans-shipments of controlled technology, 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.

Malaysia’s Membership in International Organizations

Malaysia and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, ASEAN Regional Forum, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization. Malaysia and the United States participate in the East Asia Summit.

Bilateral Economic Relations

The United States and Malaysia have a long and successful record of engagement under the bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), as well as at the World Trade Organization, ASEAN, and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.  Bilateral trade in goods with the United States was $52.2 billion in 2018. Malaysia is the United States’ 18th largest trading partner and the third-largest trading partner among the 10 ASEAN members in Southeast Asia, after Singapore and Vietnam. The United States is Malaysia’s third-largest trading partner, after China and Singapore. Top U.S. exports to Malaysia include machinery, aircraft, agricultural products, optic and medical instruments, and plastics. Top U.S. imports from Malaysia include machinery, optic and medical instruments, rubber, furniture and bedding, and agricultural products. The United States is one of the largest holders of foreign investment stock in Malaysia at approximately $15.1 billion. U.S. foreign direct investment in Malaysia is focused on the manufacturing, banking, and oil and gas sectors. Malaysian foreign direct investment in the United States is led by wholesale trade, professional scientific and technical services, depository institutions and chemical industries.