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Future Malaysian PM Will Work to Improve Relations with US - 2003-09-16

Malaysia's soon-to-be prime minister, Abdullah Badawi, says his government will work to build relations with the United States. Ties between the two countries were tested earlier this year, when Malaysia joined other nations in opposing the U.S. led invasion of Iraq.

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi spoke at the end of a visit to China, one of his most significant trips abroad as he prepares to take office as Malaysia's prime minister in the coming months.

Mr. Abdullah will take the reins from Mahathir Mohamad, Asia's longest-serving leader, who is due to retire later this year. In his visit to China, he has met the country's senior leadership, and discussed such issues as regional security and trade.

Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim nation, has been a staunch ally of the United States in the war against terror. But it has also been among the most vocal critics of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. In June, Prime Minister Mahathir accused Washington of using the terrorism issue as an excuse to attack Muslims and dominate the world.

Speaking in Beijing, Abdullah Badawi stressed that differences remain between Malaysia and the United States on the issue of Iraq. But he said his administration will work to keep ties strong with Washington.

Trade between Malaysia and the United States remains strong, and the United States is the largest purchaser of Malaysian exports.

The future prime minister indicated he does not support Washington's ongoing drive to get China to relax controls on its currency, the yuan, which has traded at a fixed rate to the dollar for the past decade.

Malaysia also pegs its currency to the dollar. Mr. Abdullah defends the policy, saying it has ensured stability and promoted continued investment in his country.

China's currency controls have fueled political debate among manufacturers, labor groups, and others in the United States. They argue that an artificially weak yuan cheats Americans out of jobs by making Chinese goods unfairly cheap.