Posts Tagged ‘Malaysia’

Hamas Blames Israel for Hit on Palestinian Engineer: The War Has Shifted Abroad

April 21, 2018

According to Palestinians, Fadi al-Batash was ambushed at a mosque in Malaysia and shot by two unidentified motorcyclists ■ Victim’s family blames the Mossad ■ Malaysia: Foreign agents likely involved

More when we have it

Hamas Engineer Murdered in Malaysia: Gov’t Accuses ‘Foreign Agents’

According to Palestinians, Fadi al-Batash was ambushed at a mosque and shot by two unidentified motorcyclists ■ Victim’s family blames the Mossad

Members of Hamas military wing, the Iz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, at memorial for engineer Fadi al-Batsh, who was killed in Malaysia this morning in Jebaliya, Gaza Strip, Saturday, April 21, 2018.
Members of Hamas military wing, the Iz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, at memorial for engineer Fadi al-Batsh, who was killed in Malaysia this morning in Jebaliya, Gaza Strip, Saturday, April 21, 2018. Adel Hana/AP

Malaysia said that “foreign agents” might be involved in the killing of a Palestinian engineer and member of Hamas at the entrance to a mosque in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday morning. The victim’s family and Palestinians blamed Israel’s Mossad for the assassination.

“There may be a connection to foreign secret services,” Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said, specifying that the two men who allegedly killed Fadi al-Batash were white.

Hamas announced that the Palestinian engineer was a member of the organization and Palestinian media reported accusations that the Mossad could be behind the assasination.

skip – From the shooting scene in Kuala Lumpur, April 21, 2018.

According to Palestinian news websites, Fadi al-Batash, 35, was ambushed at the entrance to a mosque and shot at close range by two unidentified motorcyclists. Palestinian sources in Malaysia quoted the police chief as saying the unidentified assailants waited about 20 minutes for Batash outside the mosque. They shot more than 10 bullets at Batash. He sustained wounds to the head and upper body. The shooters fled the scene.

Batash’s family, as well as an Islamic Jihad senior leader, Khaled al-Batash, accused Mossad of being behind the assassination, reported Palestinian news sources. They demanded that “Malaysian authorities conduct a comprehensive and rapid investigation to prevent the escape of the assassins.” The family said that Batash was supposed to fly to Turkey on Sunday for a science conference on energy. He is married and has three children.

According to the news agency SPA, which is affiliated with Hamas, Batash, a former resident of Jabalya in the northern Gaza Strip, worked in Malaysia in the past years as a lecturer at a private university and was the imam of a mosque in the city. Batash also involved with Islamic organizations, including MyCARE.

Batash was involved in energy field work and was a revered engineer in electrical engineering and energy production.

In December, aviation engineer and former Tunisair pilot Mohammed Zawahri was assassinated by highly skilled assassins in Sfax, Tunisia, reported local news outlets. Tunisian journalist Burhan Basis claimed on his Facebook page that the Mossad was behind the assassination.

According to Basis, Zawahri lived in several countries over the years and maintained close ties with Hamas. He added that Zawahri’s work on drones was what led the Mossad to pursue him.

In 2015, the Shin Bet security service revealed that Hamas was training Palestinian students in Malaysia. After their training, the operatives are sent to set up military networks in the West Bank, act as messengers between the territories and foreign countries, and carry out secret transfers of funds to meet Hamas’ needs.


Malaysia’s election exposes ethnic divide, corruption [Video]

April 21, 2018

Malaysia election: I will always support him, says Mahathir’s wife Siti Hasmah — “We are in the process of grooming more women to be effective leaders.”

April 21, 2018

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Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali said she would be the first one to support her husband if he becomes Prime Minister again. PHOTO TWITTER-DR MAHATHIR MOHAMAD

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Her eyesight isn’t as sharp, and she’s not as energetic as before.

But Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali will be “the first one” to support her husband if he becomes Prime Minister again.

The 91-year-old wife of Pakatan Harapan chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, 92, candidly shared that she “hesitated at first” and questioned if her husband really wanted to be Malaysia’s seventh prime minister.

“He said it’s very simple. It is his duty to the country and to Malaysians to become PM7 if they wanted him to do so.

“So, if it is fated and God willing, he will do his job. And I will be the first one to support him,” she said at the PKR headquarters here.

Dr Siti Hasmah added that she will also have to “look after” Dr Mahathir, who was prime minister from 1981 to 2003.

Asked if she would be contesting in the May 9 election, she jokingly said “Putrajaya”, leading to laughter in the room.

Dr Siti Hasmah, who has been following her husband to political events, said the opposition has received positive response from the people.

As for Dr Mahathir’s health, Dr Siti Hasmah, ever the dutiful wife, ensures his programme isn’t too hectic.

“We try to keep late events at intervals,” she said, adding that they also refrain from overeating, have regular rest and stay hydrated to take care of their voices.

“It is important to meet people and attend events. But now, we have to be selective because we are no longer young,” she said.

Earlier, Wanita Pakatan Harapan chief Zuraida Kamaruddin said there was a possibility the opposition will not achieve its target of fielding 30 per cent women candidates in the upcoming election.

She said this was due to the overall lack of participation of women in politics.

“We are in the process of grooming more women to be effective leaders. Insya-Allah, we will have 30 per cent or even more in future,” she added.

On how Pakatan funds its campaign, PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said it was mainly through crowd funding and contributions from individuals.

As Malaysia’s Election Nears, PM Najib promises high-impact projects to spur the economy to raise the people’s living standard (not like the opposition who who want to cancel these projects)

April 21, 2018

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KUALA LUMPUR (April 20): The government implemented high-impact projects to spur the economy to raise the people’s living standard, not like the opposition who who want to cancel these projects just to suit their political agenda, said Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

The Prime Minister said the opposition did not think about the effects on the nation’s economy and the people’s interests if they cancelled these projects.

Najib, who is also Finance Minister, further explained that Malaysia needed such projects to boost economic growth particularly in areas that are developing for economic spin offs and job opportunities for the locals.

Among the projects were the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), Kuala Lumpur–Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR), Pan Borneo Highway, Bandar Malaysia, Tun Razak Exchange,Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), Pengerang and KL118, he said.

“This is because the government hopes that development can be enjoyed throughout the country by all layers of society,” he said in his blog today.

However, Najib said the opposition wanted to abort these high-impact projects if they were to come into power.

He stressed that if this was to happen, 2.2 million job opportunities would be lost including for skilled workers where the salary is above RM3,000.

He said by cancelling the ECRL, states in the east coast will not get development on par with the Klang Valley.

“This factor has caused the income of people in the east coast states difficult to be raised.

“In fact, foreign investors will also lose confidence in Malaysia for arbitrarily aborting development projects that are key to economic growth and job opportunities for Malaysians,” he said.


Malaysia election: 16 members want court to suspend Umno for breaching party’s Constitution

April 20, 2018

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Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak inspects a ceremonial guard of honour during the annual congress of his ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), in Kuala Lumpur on Dec 7, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR – Sixteen members of Umno on Friday (April 20) filed court papers to have Malaysia’s biggest political party suspend its activities, for allegedly breaching the party’s Constitution.

Their move followed comments by two former Malaysian cabinet ministers asking if the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) could take part in the May 9 general election, as the party had twice postponed its internal polls – way beyond a three-year limit imposed by its own constitution.

The issue is closely watched because the Registrar of Society (ROS) last month granted Umno a second extension to postpone its election. The ROS two weeks ago temporarily suspended opposition Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) for failing to abide by its constitution on a matter the registrar would not disclose.

PPBM is led by Tun Mahathir Mohamad, a former premier who is leading the opposition charge to oust Umno president and Prime Minister, Najib Razak, from power.

The group of 16 Umno members on Friday, represented by lawyer Haniff Khatri Abdulla, made three applications to the High Court, said a report in the Malay Mail Online (MMO) news site.

“We are of the opinion that the judicial review is needed because of Umno’s failure to adhere to its own constitution,” Mr Haniff told a news conference Kuala Lumpur Courts Complex.

He said the ROS “suddenly came out on March 5 saying it now allows Umno’s bid to postpone party elections to next year, when it was last held five years ago.”

Former culture minister Datuk Seri Rais Yatim on Thursday (April 19) said the Malaysian courts, and not the ROS, should decide on this Umno constitutional issue.

“Umno can only go about their daily business once it gets a court declaration. If not, many members will question the legality of Umno,” Malaysiakini quoted Mr Rais as saying on Thursday.

He reminded Umno members that the party was deregistered in 1988 during a leadership battle after some members asked the High Court to decide on an Umno constitutional matter regarding illegal party branches.

Umno, which traditionally holds its elections every three years, last held them in October 19, 2013.

It was first given leave last year by the ROS, to postpone its polls until Thursday, April 19, 2018.

The ROS last month told Umno that it could again postpone its polls, by one more year to April 19 next year.

Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz, another former minister who has been taking up cudgels against the leadership of Prime Minister Najib Razak, Umno’s president, said by law the party cannot contest in the May 9 polling as it has disregarded its own constitution.

Umno postponed its internal elections in the past few years as Datuk Seri Najib faced headwinds caused by the scandal surrounding state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd, and later, as the party gears up for the general election.

The complaints by Mr Rais, 76, and Ms Rafidah, 74, raised eyebrows because the duo had stayed loyal to Umno during much of the 1MDB turmoil, but have in recent months been critical of Mr Najib’s leadership.

Umno’s secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor has said that he sees no problem with the extensions given to the party by the ROS. He quoted the Societies Act 1966 and residual power under Section 3A of the same Act, to say that the ROS had the power to grant these postponements.

He said there should be no doubts on Umno’s status as a legitimate party, New Straits Times newspaper quoted him as saying on Wednesday (April 18).

Malaysia PM Najib plays up the country’s ethnic divisions to get elected

April 20, 2018

By Alex Climent

Malaysia PM stokes ethnic tensions in re-election bid

Najib Razak waves his party’s flag at a rally. Photo: Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty Images

Malaysia, the advertisement croons softly, it’s truly Asia. The southeast Asian nation’s tourism board has long sold its ethnic mix as one of its most alluring traits.

Between the lines: As the country heads for national elections next month, that diversity has taken on a more divisive quality.

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Prime Minister Najib Razak is seeking re-election despite his implication in a billion-dollar graft scandal involving the country’s state development fund.

  • He faces an increasingly firm opposition led by jailed former Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and 92-year old former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed, the authoritarian “father of modern Malaysia” who was once Najib’s mentor.
  • Only gerrymandering helped Najib’s UMNO coalition stay in power in 2013, despite losing the popular vote.
  • This time around he’s taking fewer chances. He chose an election date that trims the campaign season to barely a month, giving him maximal advantages. The government has also ordered Mahathir’s party to dissolve, citing a registration technicality.

But most worryingly, Najib has played up the country’s ethnic divisions, pledging to extend affirmative action benefits for the country’s disproportionately poor ethnic Malay majority, and implicitly stoking tensions with a relatively well-off Chinese minority. He has also courted a once-hostile hardline Islamist party in order to profit from the growing appeal of conservative Islam in some parts of the country.

What to watch for: Malaysia’s economic prosperity and relative peace have always been something of an example to its neighbors in Southeast Asia. But as nationalist and sectarian politics begin to stir elsewhere in the region — Indonesia in particular — Najib’s victory may be a bellwether for a different sort of (truly) Asia.

Go deeper: The Economist on “Why South Asia’s majorities act like persecuted minorities”

Sign up for Signal, a twice-weekly newsletter from GZERO Media, a Eurasia Group company, and follow @saosasha on Twitter.

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A flare is set off in Shah Alam at a political event for Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. Photo: AFP

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Malaysian President Najib Razak with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte

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Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak didn’t release election slate “to avoid the risk of internal sabotage”

April 20, 2018

KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s plan to unveil candidates for Barisan Nasional (BN) soon after dissolving Parliament has been ditched to avoid the risk of internal sabotage, after the ruling coalition sensed unrest among its core Malay support.

Read the rest (Paywall):

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Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (R) and opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad. (Photo: Bernama/Reuters)

How Malaysia’s election will be rigged

Thanks to the wildly uneven size of constituencies, it takes more votes to a elect an opposition MP than a government one

The Economist

“IF AN election is voters choosing politicians, gerrymandering is politicians choosing voters,” explains Wong Chin Huat of the Penang Institute, a Malaysian think-tank, to a small group of concerned citizens. They are gathered in a windowless meeting room in Kuala Lumpur’s decrepit centre to bemoan the Election Commission’s (EC) redrawing of constituency boundaries. The new maps, Mr Wong explains, will help the ruling coalition, the Barisan Nasional, maintain its stranglehold on power after 44 years in office.

An election must be held by August. The last parliamentary session before the vote ends on April 5th. Before they adjourn, lawmakers are expected to vote on the new boundaries for their seats, which are filled on a first-past-the-post basis.

Malapportionment—the creation of seats of wildly unequal size—worries critics most. This involves packing urban and minority voters, who tend to support the opposition, into highly populated constituencies, while the largely rural and Malay backers of the Barisan Nasional occupy depopulated provincial seats. As a result, it takes more votes to get an opposition MP elected than it does to elect one from the ruling party. At the most recent election, in 2013, the Barisan Nasional won 60% of seats despite receiving a minority of votes, thanks mainly to this ploy.

Rather than making constituencies more balanced, the EC is making them even less so. In peninsular Malaysia there will be 15 parliamentary seats each containing more than 100,000 voters, according to Tindak Malaysia, an organisation that supports electoral reform. Fourteen of them are represented by members of opposition parties. All but one of 30 of the smallest constituencies, the tiniest of which has fewer than 18,000 voters, support Barisan Nasional (see chart).

The constitution says that constituencies should be “approximately equal” in size. It originally stipulated that, within each of Malaysia’s states, they should not vary in size by more than 15%. Later this was amended to 33%. In 1973 the rule was abolished altogether. Since then malapportionment has been rife, but the latest electoral maps are particularly bad, says Maria Chin Abdullah, until recently the head of Bersih, an alliance of groups which campaigns for fair elections.

Gerrymandering adds to the problem. This involves redrawing constituency boundaries to pack opposition voters into a few seats, while ruling-party supporters form a narrow majority in a larger number. The EC at first produced maps for state assemblies that appeared to sort voters into ethnic ghettoes. The revised versions, although less racially divisive, remain partisan. One example is the suggestion that the seat of Beruas in Perak state, which went to the opposition at the last election, should absorb an opposition stronghold from an adjoining constituency. Concentrating opposition supporters in the one seat should more than double the incumbent’s winning majority, but makes it harder for the BN’s critics to compete next door.

The proposals have prompted lots of objections and several court cases, especially in swing states such as Johor and Perak. “The Election Commission has totally ignored us. They don’t want to see us,” says Ms Chin Abdullah, who has left Bersih to stand in the impending election as an independent. Judges, likewise, have refused to interfere, saying the constitution gives parliament the right to redraw the maps. One appeal is pending in Selangor, a state run by the opposition, but even the activists involved express little hope for their cause.

There are other concerns. The rolls seem to include voters living in unlikely places, like the middle of a palm-oil plantation or the toilet block of a factory. In Selangor alone, the EC does not seem to have addresses for 36,000 registered voters. Postal voting may also be a problem. The government allows certain categories of public employees to vote by post in case they cannot get to the polls on election day. They include police officers and soldiers. But Ambiga Sreenevasan, a lawyer and activist, points out that there is little oversight of the storage and counting of such votes. Nonetheless, the EC quietly added nine new categories of postal voters last year, including workers unlikely to be on the front lines of an emergency on election day, such as the staff of the Immigration Department. And then there is the indelible ink, designed to stain voters’ fingers for a week to identify those who have already cast their ballots. A government minister admitted after the last election that the ink was too easily washed off.

Mr Najib, meanwhile, has been showering voters with handouts. Some 7m poorer Malaysians will receive three payments of up to 1,200 ringgit ($308) in total over the course of the year. Civil servants also received a special bonus in January and can expect another in June. But the government’s zeal to diminish voters’ say in the election suggests it does not have total faith in its ability to win them over.

This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline “Tilting the playing field”


Singapore police warn of scam involving hacked WhatsApp accounts

April 18, 2018

SINGAPORE: The police have received reports of WhatsApp accounts being taken over by scammers, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) said in a news release on Wednesday (Apr 18).

Victims would first receive a WhatsApp message from one of their contacts, whose WhatsApp account might have been compromised. The message asks for WhatsApp account verification codes that the victims would have received through SMS.

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“The victims would subsequently lose access to their WhatsApp account once the WhatsApp verification codes are sent to the scammers,” the police said.

SPF added that a variant of the scam has been reported overseas where the scammers were known to have used the compromised accounts to deceive the account holders’ contacts into purchasing gift cards and sending over the password for the cards.

The scammers then sold the gift cards online.

The police advised members of the public to beware of unusual requests received over WhatsApp, even if they were sent by their WhatsApp contacts.

Anyone with more information on such scams can call the police hotline at 1800-255-0000, or dial 999 for urgent police assistance.

To seek scam-related advice, members of the public may call the National Crime Prevention Council’s anti-scam helpline at 1800-722-6688 or visit

Source: CNA/mn(cy)


What the US-China Struggle for Regional Dominance Means for Southeast Asia

April 18, 2018

This week China will undertake live-fire exercises in the Taiwan Straits.  This provocative action comes on the heels of simultaneous major U.S. and Chinese naval exercises in the South China Sea.  While the situation is not as dire as it may seem, competition between the United States and China for dominance in the region is indeed intensifying.  Faced with this burgeoning soft and thinly veiled hard power struggle for their political hearts and minds, Southeast Asian countries are doing what they can and must to maintain their relative independence and security in this roiling political cauldron. Indeed, neither China nor the United States should be under any illusions that any particular Southeast Asian country is supporting them in general or in a particular policy or action because it believes in their vision of the ideal world order.

Some are so far skillfully negotiating this political tight rope and benefiting from both sides’ largesse in the process.  Indeed, most Southeast Asian countries are not blatantly choosing sides but are instead demonstrating that the matter of political choice between the two is not “either-or”  but a continuum. According to Max Fisher and Audrey Carlsen, writing in the New York Times, there are three groups at various stages in this ever evolving continuum — “counteracting” China, “shifting toward” China, and “playing both sides”.

Let’s look at some individual countries’ situations and current positions regarding this U.S.-China struggle.

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Singapore does seem more ideologically aligned with the United States and even provides temporary basing for U.S. Navy warships and aircraft collecting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance regarding China. But Singapore also seems to be hedging if not waffling. Perhaps Singapore’s current role as both ASEAN interlocutor with China and ASEAN chair has resulted in it taking a more neutral position between the two. For example, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong seemed cool when asked recently about the U.S. proposed Quad — a potential security arrangement between Australia, India, Japan, and the United States — saying, “We do not want to end up with rival blocs forming.”U.S. “strategic partner” Singapore and U.S. ally the Philippines are thought by some (though not the NYT feature) to be in the U.S. camp of “counteracting” China. But this is misleading.

The Philippines is an example of a country clearly “playing both sides” — and so far successfully so. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s abrupt pivot from staunch U.S. military ally to a more independent and neutral stance between the United States and China has startled those analysts and policy makers that assumed Manila was firmly in the U.S. camp. So far the Philippines has benefited from its better relationship with China while maintaining its military relationship — if a less robust one — with the United States.

Other Southeast Asian state — like Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and perhaps nominal U.S. ally Thailand — appear to be moving toward China, preferring China’s economic incentives over the benefits of U.S. military “protection.”

Brunei may also be shifting its position. Although a claimant to part of the disputed area of the South China Sea, it has been relatively silent regarding both the disputes and the U.S.-China struggle for influence.  Brunei and China apparently have overlapping claims in the South China Sea and Brunei may be using its claim as leverage to keep badly needed Chinese investment flowing. But this is a two-way street. Beijing may try to use its economic ties with Brunei to help prevent a consensus within ASEAN regarding decisions or statements on the South China Sea.

Indonesia has sharp differences with China regarding the area of the South China Sea north and east of the Indonesia-owned Natuna Islands, where their claims may overlap. The Trump administration is trying to take advantage of this to reinvigorate U.S.-Indonesia military relations. But nonaligned Indonesia and the United States have very different world perspectives. They differ sharply regarding U.S. policies and actions in the Middle East — especially the recent move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. While the United States sees ASEAN as a useful bulwark against China, Indonesia’s current interest in leading ASEAN and in regionalism itself seem to have faded in favor of domestic concerns. Foremost among these are development projects in which China’s investment and aid can be critical.  Plus, U.S.-Indonesian military ties have a troubled past. In the late 1990s they were suspended due to alleged human rights abuses by the Indonesian military. More important, many Indonesians in high places remain suspicious of U.S. motives and worried about the potential regional destabilizing effect of the US-China competition.  Indonesia’s Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu has suggested that “if regional countries can manage the South China Sea on their own, there is no need to involve others.”

Vietnam also has sharp differences with China regarding the South China Sea. Vietnam has a policy of “diversification and multilateralization “of relations with the major powers, and the United States has tried to take advantage of this as well as Vietnam’s concerns with China. But Vietnam is steadfastly nonaligned. Indeed, its long-standing policy is the “three nos” – no participation in military alliances, no foreign military bases on Vietnamese territory, and no reliance on one country to fight against another. Meanwhile it continues to have strong economic relations with China and seems to have reached an unsteady modus vivendi with China regarding the South China Sea disputes. While Vietnam’s position may seem to be anti-China, pro-U.S. , this should not be taken for granted.

One thing is fairly certain — China –U.S. balancing will become increasingly important and difficult for Southeast Asian countries. It will also undermine ASEAN unity and weaken its “centrality” and influence in security matters in the region — both collectively and for its individual members. ASEAN’s divisions on South China Sea issues currently advantage China.

This unfolding political drama could well turn out very badly for Southeast Asian nations that are unable or unwilling to successfully hedge and waffle. Indeed, there is a yawning chasm filled with adverse implications beneath this political tight rope if a country should lose its balance and fall to one side or the other. But for clever, self-confident, and bold leaders, this dilemma presents an opportunity that could prove a boon to those skillful enough to safely navigate these treacherous political waters.

Mark J. Valencia is Adjunct Senior Scholar at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies in Haikou, China

Donald Trump ends his brief flirtation with TPP — Flip-flop on Twitter

April 18, 2018

US president’s second U-turn on Pacific trade adds to pressure on Japan’s Shinzo Abe

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Flip-flop: Shinzo Abe (left) will not be happy with Donald Trump’s rejection onTwitter of the Japanese prime minister’s invitation to the US to rejoin the TPP. The two leaders met with their wives in Florida on Tuesday © Reuters

Shawn Donnan in Washington

Donald Trump brought a quick end to his latest flirtation with rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, turning to Twitter late on Tuesday after a dinner with Japan’s Shinzo Abe to reject Tokyo’s invitation for him to rejoin.

“While Japan and South Korea would like us to go back into TPP, I don’t like the deal for the United States,” he tweeted. “Too many contingencies and no way to get out if it doesn’t work. Bilateral deals are far more efficient, profitable and better for OUR workers. Look how bad WTO is to U.S.”

The president’s social media announcement came at the end of the first day of a two-day summit with Mr Abe at Mr Trump’s Mar-a-Lago private club in Florida. Earlier, the two leaders exchanged pleasantries during an appearance in front of reporters. They are expected to play golf on Wednesday and continue talks on issues including North Korea and trade.

Mr Trump pulled the US out of the TPP on his first full working day in office last January after campaigning against it during his 2016 run to the presidency.

But he last week raised the possibility of rejoining for the second time this year during a meeting with politicians from agricultural states that have been pushing him to avoid starting a trade war with China and to consider re-entering the TPP. Earlier this year he also raised the idea of joining the TPP during a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Mr Trump has already given Mr Abe an important victory at the summit by saying he will raise the fate of Japanese citizens abducted by Pyongyang. But Mr Trump’s decision to rule out the TPP, ahead of the second day of talks on trade, is bad news for the Japanese prime minister.

Japan is reluctant to enter bilateral trade talks, suspecting Washington will demand greater concessions than Tokyo gave in the TPP, with little on offer in return. Mr Abe, who prizes his relationship with the president, had hoped to channel Mr Trump’s demands on trade into talks about a return to the TPP. A blunt demand to start bilateral talks instead would place him in a difficult position.

The manoeuvres on the TPP have come as Mr Trump is embroiled in an increasingly tense trade stand-off with China, which was never included in the TPP. US officials have been working on a $100bn list of further tariffs designed to increase the pressure on Beijing. The US and China have each already announced $50bn lists for imports they would target for tariffs.

The 11 remaining members of the TPP led by Japan earlier this year signed the deal into existence. They suspended intellectual property and other contentious provisions sought by the Obama administration when it negotiated the pact when they did so. They have also, however, signalled that they would be open to the US rejoining.

But several TPP members, including Japan, have also indicated in recent days that they would not be open to a major renegotiation of the pact, something the US president had said he would seek.

Why Mr Trump mentioned South Korea is unclear. It is not a member of the TPP, though it has long been seen as a likely candidate to join what many in Washington still see as an important strategic bloc that the Obama administration had viewed as an economic bulwark against a rising China.

Mr Trump has argued since taking office that the US is better served by bilateral trade agreements. But he has yet to launch any such negotiations and Japan is among the countries that have so far resisted his administration’s approaches.

Japan also was pointedly not included in a list of US allies excluded from steel and aluminium tariffs that Mr Trump imposed last month even though the president said he was open to doing so for countries like Japan with which the US has security agreements.

Additional reporting by Robin Harding in Tokyo