Obama in landmark Malaysia visit

image copyrightAFP
image captionBarack Obama is the first serving US president to visit Malaysia since Lyndon Johnson in 1966

US President Barack Obama has arrived in Malaysia - the first serving American leader to visit the predominantly-Muslim nation since 1966.

The visit signals closer bilateral relations after decades of uneasy ties.

Mr Obama is expected to seek closer trade relations with Malaysia to dilute China's influence in the region.

The US has already provided Kuala Lumpur with military assistance, most recently in the search for the missing Malaysian airline.

'Pivotal state'

Mr Obama landed at Malaysia's Air Force base in Subang on Saturday evening local time.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionActivists in Kuala Lumpur staged a protest rally against the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal
image copyrightReuters
image captionMr Obama arrived in Malaysia from South Korea, as he continues his four-nation tour of Asia

The US president has already visited Japan and South Korea as part of a four-nation tour of Asia.

Ahead of the visit, Malaysia's government controlled newspapers printed the American flag on their front pages, along with the words "Welcome, Mr President," the BBC's Jennifer Pak in Kuala Lumpur reports.

But some analysts say it has taken Mr Obama too long to visit the country, especially since he lived in the region as a child.

American presidents had stayed away because of years of anti-Western rhetoric under former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad, but current Prime Minister Najib Razak wants Washington to recognise Malaysia as a global player, our correspondent adds.

In his turn, Mr Obama wants Kuala Lumpur to sign a free trade deal with 10 other nations - the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Ben Rhodes, Mr Obama's deputy national security adviser, said relations between the US and Malaysia had blossomed in recent years.

Malaysia has become a "pivotal state"' in the Obama administration's push to strengthen ties throughout the fast-growing and strategically important region, the Associated Press quoted Mr Rhodes as saying.

However, some Malay Muslims claim that the US-led trade deal will reduce their economic privileges over other ethnic groups in the country.

Mr Obama arrived in Malaysia from South Korea and will finish his Asian tour in the Philippines on 29 April.

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