WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State John Kerry will push Malaysia to redouble its efforts against human trafficking when he attends a regional security conference this coming week, says a senior State Department official.
Kerry's visit, starting on Wednesday, comes a week after the department faced a storm of protest for upgrading Malaysia to Tier 2 from Tier 3 in its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.
US lawmakers and human rights activists said there was no fundamental justification for the upgrade. They said it was intended solely to smooth the way for the US-backed Trans Pacific Partnership trade involving 12 countries including Malaysia.
Thailand remained on Tier 3, based on information gathered by US authorities up to March 31 of this year. Since that time, the country has been making vigorous efforts to crack down on trafficking, following the discovery in late April of dozens of graves in southern Thailand.
A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Malaysia would need to do much more to combat trafficking, expanding prosecutions and meeting standards laid out in US anti-trafficking legislation.
Like Thailand, Malaysia has faced international criticism over its treatment of millions of migrants from poorer countries, and over the plight of stateless Rohingya Muslims trafficked from Myanmar and Bangladesh aboard overcrowded boats. Dozens of graves as well as pens likely used as cages for Rohingya have been found in abandoned jungle camps on both sides of the Thai-Malaysian border.
Kerry is visiting Malaysia for annual security talks between Asean and its international partners. Those talks are expected to focus on China's island-building in the disputed South China Sea, which has rattled China's neighbours and strained relations between Washington and Beijing.
Kerry, who will begin his travels in the Mideast, will also visit Singapore and Vietnam.