• Kyodo

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A Japan-Malaysia memorandum on defense exchanges that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed last year could take a while to realize due to regional “sensitivities,” Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Tuesday.

“It is important to really sit down to discuss heart-to-heart with the leadership of Japan because the past and their relationship with certain nations in the region should not be a stumbling block to a bigger role of stability and harmony,” Hishammuddin told reporters after meeting with his Japanese counterpart Itsunori Onodera.

Citing “the sensitivities of our region,” he said it is important for Malaysia to consider the “bigger scope” by “taking into account China, taking into account the U.S. presence,” for example, and secure the understanding of countries like China and South Korea.

During his visit to Malaysia in July last year, Abe and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak agreed to strengthen cooperation on maritime security and revitalize their countries’ defense exchanges.

According to the Japanese side, Abe expressed hope then “for the preparation of a memorandum between the defense authorities from both sides at an early date.”

Japan already has similar memorandums with Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines, which call for regular high-level exchanges including ministerial meetings, promotion of cooperation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and promotion of cooperation within regional and international frameworks.

Hishammuddin said officials are still discussing the details of the Abe-proposed memorandum.

His talks with Onodera also touched on security in the Sulu Straits, sandwiched between Malaysia’s Sabah state on Borneo and southern Philippines.

“If the Sabah area is not stable, it will affect shipping lanes in the region,” he said.

The Abu Sayyaf militant group, based in Jolo Island in the southern Philippines, has been blamed for a series of abductions in Sabah, including the abduction in early this month of a Chinese national who was vacationing on an island resort.

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