Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Malaysian counterpart, Najib Razak, have pledged to advance defense and maritime cooperation.
Speaking after a 50-minute summit Monday with Najib in Tokyo, Abe said they agreed to upgrade bilateral ties to a “strategic partnership” to boost cooperation on a wide range of regional and international issues.
“As a concrete effort, we agreed to cooperate in the field of defense equipment,” Abe said. “(Tokyo) will provide cooperation in maritime safety by offering reinforced assistance to (Malaysia’s) coast guard agency.”
Abe and Najib “decided to initiate negotiations on (a) framework of cooperation on the transfer of defense equipment and technology,” according to a joint statement issued after the summit.
It is the first time Japan has initiated talks with a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on a transfer of defense equipment and technology, according to a senior government official, who added the focus is on disaster relief and maritime safety.
Turning to the South China Sea, both leaders “reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace, stability, security and freedom of navigation” in and flights over the area, the joint statement said in apparent reference to China’s aggressive land reclamation work there.
“We reaffirmed our commitment to work as partners, not only in the context of bilateral ties, but also to ensure ASEAN as a region truly becomes a region of peace and prosperity and beyond that to make it a dynamic and vibrant region,” Najib said.
Meanwhile, Abe said Japan will launch a new training program in which 500 vocational trainees will come from Malaysia over the next five years to help build a foundation for future bilateral relations.
On the economic front, Abe pledged to cooperate with Malaysia’s development under a “high-quality” infrastructure initiative, for which he recently pledged a $110 billion investment over five years in Asia in collaboration with the Asian Development Bank.
“Prime Minister Abe’s initiative to support the region, especially . . . his announcement to promote partnership in quality infrastructure, will certainly bring impetus to the future development of ASEAN as a community,” Najib said.
Abe said he pitched Japan’s shinkansen technology to Najib for a high-speed rail project linking Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
Najib said he expects Japan to submit a “highly competitive bid.” China and France are among the other expected bidders.
During the summit, the Malaysian leader called for Japan’s support on the issue of Rohingya refugees.
“I also took the opportunity to brief (Abe on) the latest challenge we have, which is the boat people of the Rohingya,” Najib said. “We believe that while we try to look for an ASEAN solution, it is an also an international problem which requires an international solution. Therefore, anything Japan can do to help us alleviate this problem will certainly be very much welcome.”