KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Security issues, including human trafficking, and bilateral relations between Malaysia and the United States were among the focus of discussions between Deputy Prime Minister Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and visiting US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, today.

Ahmad Zahid said during the 40-minute meeting with Tillerson, they discussed and exchanged views on security developments and regional and international issues of common interest.

“Hopefully, interaction between the leaders of both countries can strengthen bilateral relations and be a catalyst to enhancing relations and understanding between Malaysia and the United States,” he said in a statement issued in conjunction with the meeting of the two leaders in Parliament building, here, today.

Tillerson, who is on a two-day working visit to Malaysia from yesterday, is the first US high official under President Donald Trump’s administration to visit Malaysia since being appointed as Secretary of State on Feb 1.

In combating threats of transborder crime including human trafficking, Ahmad Zahid said Malaysia needed to forge cooperation with its strategic partners including the US.

He said Malaysia’s initiatives in tackling these issues had been recognised by the US Department of State in its 2017 Annual Report which had placed Malaysia at Level Two.

Ahmad Zahid said Malaysia had achieved Level Two compared to Level Two (Observation) in 2016 as it had shown drastic improvement in terms of criminal prosecution (100 cases in 2017), as well as enforcement.

“This is thus far the best achievement by Malaysia since it introduced the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants Act in 2007,” he said, adding that Malaysia was targeting Level One in the US Department of State Report for 2020.

On bilateral relations, Ahmad Zahid said Malaysia and the US had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in addressing transborder crime on July 17, 2012 and another MoU on immigration cooperation on on Oct 1, 2014.

“Both parties should apply the two MoUs to promote cooperation in identifying current and future transborder crime threats, as well as migration and related issues.

In combating terrorism, Ahmad Zahid said Malaysia and the US had also signed a document on sharing information on terrorism (Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD-6) on Oct 8, 2015 which listed individuals suspected of involvement in terrorism.

He added that Malaysia and the US shared views that terrorism and extremism should be monitored, especially in the social media to curb the menace.

“Malaysia is prepared to share its experience and expertise in the area of deradicalisation which has achieved 97.5 per cent success,” he noted.

On the US visa waiver which has enabled Malaysians to enter the US and stay there for a period not exceeding 90 days as tourists and for business without a visa, Ahmad Zahid said Malaysia had taken the initiative to fulfil six of the seven conditions set to participate in the programme.

The condition that has not been met is the US visa rejection applications from Malaysians of less than three per cent annually, while the rate was at 3.65 per cent in 2016.

The deputy prime minister said since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Malaysia and the US 60 years ago, bilateral ties between the two countries remained good.

“The main pillars in this bilateral cooperation are political relations, trade and investment, education, people-to-people relations, defence and security, and science and technology.”

According to him, the US was Malaysia’s third biggest trade partner, while trade from Malaysia was the 18th biggest to the US last year.

The volume of trade between Malaysia and the US was worth US$32.78 billion in 2016.