• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob on Thursday pledged to boost their nations’ relationship amid China’s increasing maritime assertiveness in the region.

Kishida aired strong opposition to any “unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East and South China seas,” when he spoke with Ismail Sabri by phone for about 25 minutes, according to Japan’s Foreign Ministry.

He told the Malaysian prime minister that he would like to promote specific areas of cooperation to realize a free and open Indo-Pacific region ahead of the 65th anniversary next year of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the nations, the ministry said.

Along with some other issues including measures to fight the coronavirus and promote maritime security, Kishida also said he would like to boost cooperation with Malaysia to realize the “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific,” an initiative aimed at maintaining peace, freedom and prosperity in the region.

The talks came after Tokyo scrapped a plan to send former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as a special envoy to the Southeast Asian nation later this month due to concerns over the new omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Ismail Sabri expressed his will to further strengthen bilateral relations with the 40th anniversary next year of Malaysia’s adopting of its “Look East” policy, in which it aimed to emulate the work ethic displayed in Japan.

Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur have been respectively engaged in territorial disputes with Beijing in the East and South China seas.

The two leaders also discussed the situation in Myanmar, which has been under military control since a February coup, with Kishida vowing to back the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ mediation efforts.

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