France's Hollande lobbies Malaysia to buy fighter jets

AP News
Posted: Mar 28, 2017 9:56 AM
France's Hollande lobbies Malaysia to buy fighter jets

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — French President Francois Hollande lobbied on Tuesday for the sale of Rafale fighter aircraft to Malaysia, but Prime Minister Najib Razak said his government is not yet ready to purchase the jets.

Najib said he and Hollande discussed the purchase of defense equipment during their talks, but that "Malaysia was not ready yet to make a decision" on the Rafale, built by French manufacturer Dassault Aviation.

Malaysia wants to replace its fleet of Russian MiG-29 fighter jets and is considering the Rafale as well as other jets including the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Hollande, who arrived Monday as part of a regional tour to boost ties with Asia, said the Rafale was "the best jet in its category."

"I know you will be making a decision and against that background, we want to provide the necessary support. Our ministers are already working to that effect," he said at a joint news conference with Najib.

Najib also said that France's Group PSA is in talks with Malaysian national carmaker Proton on a possible partnership, but didn't give details. Proton is looking for a foreign partner to turn around its fortunes and is expected to make an announcement in May.

Hollande is the second French president to visit Malaysia after Jacques Chirac's visit in 2003.

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France is Malaysia's fourth largest trading partner in the European Union, with trade between the two countries totaling 15.2 billion ringgit ($3.4 billion) last year, officials said.

Hollande later conferred the Commander of the Legion of Honor medal, the highest honor conferred to non-French citizens, to Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh at a ceremony at the French Embassy. Yeoh, 54, is known for her roles in the 1997 James Bond film "Tomorrow Never Dies" and the 2006 blockbuster "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

Hollande was to fly to Indonesia later Tuesday on the last leg of his tour.