US Secretary of State John Kerry lauded Malaysia Friday as a modern, innovative and multi-faith model for the world, heaping praise on a country the United States regards as a valuable Muslim ally.
On the final day of a curtailed Asian tour in which he has filled in for US President Barack Obama, Kerry said Malaysia's young people were an inspiration for the Arab Spring.
"Here in Malaysia, people of different heritages have been in conversation for a long time," Kerry said in a speech to mainly young entrepreneurs in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.
He cited the symbolism of Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Towers -- the world's tallest twin skyscrapers -- having blended modern engineering, traditional Muslim design, Malaysian vision, a US architect and Asian builders.
"Together, they... are a soaring reminder that Malaysia is much more than a marketplace. It is a human and economic mosaic - and it is a model for the world," Kerry said.
He said people struggling against authoritarian regimes in the Arab Spring uprisings in other Muslim countries had been inspired by young people such as those in prosperous Malaysia, who had freedoms and abilities to fulfil their dreams.
"The world watched young people just like you – men and women with great aspirations just like yours – demand the chance to fashion their futures, just like you are doing today as you turn your dreams into businesses," he said.
Kerry, who left Malaysia later in the day, had earlier met Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, seeking to further build on warming bilateral ties at a time when US commitment to Asia is under scrutiny.
Kerry's speech was originally to have been delivered by Obama, who launched the annual business gathering in Washington in 2010 to foster US links with emerging entrepreneurs in Muslim-majority countries.
US relations with Malaysia soured during the 1981-2003 tenure of prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, a strident critic of the West, but have since gradually improved.
Obama was to have been the first US president to visit Malaysia since Lyndon Johnson in 1966, but he was forced to stay in Washington to deal with the US government shutdown.
Kerry earlier this week filled in for his boss at a pair of annual Asia-Pacific summits in Indonesia and Brunei, where he told regional leaders the United States would maintain its influence in the region despite the crisis in Washington.
Kerry omitted mention in his Malaysia speech of controversial policies benefiting the Malay majority and smaller indigenous groups in the nation of 28 million.
Under the country's Malay-dominated government, they enjoy quotas in university placements, housing, and government jobs and contracts to prevent an industrious ethnic Chinese minority from completely dominating the economy.
But Chinese and members of the ethnic Indian minority increasingly chafe at the Malay preferences.
While acknowledging it has helped Malays, critics say the system has become a millstone in a competitive global economy and is abused by a corrupt Malay elite.