US President Barack Obama — PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR – Mr Barack Obama will become the first US president to visit Malaysia in nearly 50 years this weekend, seeking to put decades of uneasy relations behind him as both cast wary eyes on a rising China.

Mindful of America’s perennial image problem in the Islamic world, Mr Obama – who visits Malaysia from Saturday to next Monday – is expected to tout the US friendship with the economically thriving moderate Muslim nation. As one of several rival claimants to parts of the South China Sea, Malaysia is also an important partner in the US “rebalance” of its strategic attention to Asia, where concern is rising over Beijing’s territorial assertiveness.

Mr Obama will “highlight the growing strategic and economic relationship” with Malaysia and its “credentials as a moderate, Muslim-majority state and emerging democracy”, said Dr Joshua Kurlantzick, a fellow at the US Council on Foreign Relations.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, meanwhile, will seek to capitalise on Mr Obama’s expected praise to counter flagging voter support and global criticism over the handling of the loss of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. — AFP