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Trump's immigration order troubles Muslim-majority Indonesia, Malaysia

Friday's U.S. immigration decree is reverberating well beyond the targeted seven Muslim-majority countries on President Trump's list.

Indonesia—home to the world's largest followers of Islam at 220 million—is not among the seven but Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told Reuters over the weekend that her government held "deep regrets about the policy."

A spokesperson from Jakarta's embassy in Washington meanwhile told AFP that the move would negatively affect the global fight against radicalism, adding that it was wrong to link terrorism with one religion.

Protesters gather outside Terminal 4 at JFK airport in opposition to U.S. president Donald Trump's proposed ban on immigration in Queens, New York City, U.S., January 28, 2017.
Stephen Yang | Reuters
Protesters gather outside Terminal 4 at JFK airport in opposition to U.S. president Donald Trump's proposed ban on immigration in Queens, New York City, U.S., January 28, 2017.

Passport holders of Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen are now forbidden from entering the world's largest economy for the next 90 days, with Syrian refugees indefinitely banned, according to an order that Trump signed into effect on Friday.

Politicians in Malaysia, where 60 percent of the 28 million-strong population is Muslim, also voiced concern. On Sunday, Ong Kian Ming, an MP from the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP), called Trump's policy "inhumane" and urged Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to condemn the action, local news reported.

Neither Najib nor Indonesian President Joko Widodo have addressed Friday's news. Both head of states offered Trump their congratulatory messages upon his November election victory but like other governments, fears about increased U.S. protectionism and 'America First' policies have clouded their respective relationships with Washington.

For now, the U.S. immigration order isn't expected to hit political and economic ties with Jakarta or Kuala Lumpur but it could bring longer-term social costs. "While Trump's policies may not affect bilateral relations, it will certainly sway public perception, against the U.S," Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, Malaysia analyst at BowerGroupAsia, told CNBC in anticipation of the ban on Friday.

Many expect Trump's policies, perceived as unjust and discriminatory, could result in a decline of American soft power in Muslim-majority regions, which former U.S. president Barack Obama attempted to carefully rebuild in the aftermath of the Bush regime.

In a statement on Sunday, the Republican leader insisted that Friday's directive was a counter-terror measure, not one aimed at religion.

During his election campaign, Trump floated the idea of a ban on all Muslims entering the U.S. but political analysts told CNBC that it was unlikely such a move would be implemented because it would be counter-productive economically.

Ultimately, the consequences of Friday's order for Indonesia and Malaysia depends on how Najib and Widodo react, Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, political science professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia, explained in an e-mail.

If Widodo or Najib interpret the order as a broader act against Muslims, instead of one focused on U.S. national security, then all kinds of repercussions could happen, including a marked decline in travel states-side and a diminished view of America as a great power, he noted.

In Malaysia, ethno-religious identities are more important than in Indonesia, where citizens tend to identify more with their nation instead, Hamid explained. So in that sense, Washington "stands to lose more in their bilateral relations with Kuala Lumpur, whose leaders are fond of whipping up religious sentiments for political mileage," he continued.

Indonesia has been experiencing an ideological struggle between secular and religious politics in recent months as conservative Muslims protest against a local Christian politician.

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