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Anwar spotlights Asean’s bold leadership to tackle challenges during Tokyo visit

Publish date: Mon, 27 May 2024, 09:07 PM

KUALA LUMPUR, May 27 — Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has given impetus to Malaysia’s readiness to take on the chairmanship of Asean next year and advancing the region’s core economic interests and tackle geopolitical and security challenges, including territorial disputes in South-east Asia.

The prime minister made this clarion call during his visit to Japan to attend the renowned Nikkei Forum in Tokyo last week.

The significant visit also saw Anwar meet with Japanese captains of industry and companies where he managed to secure potential investments of RM1.45 billion and exports worth RM500 million.

The move would inevitably cement further long-standing two-way trade and investment linkages. In 2023, bilateral trade was valued at RM156.64 billion or US$34.39 billion.

It must be noted that Japan has been Malaysia’s fourth-largest trading partner for nine consecutive years.

This being the case, Anwar’s visit would certainly reinforce Kuala Lumpur-Tokyo ties, especially amid global economic concerns such as the United States-China trade war which will affect regional economies in one way or another.

With trade with the Land of the Rising Sun poised to increase, Anwar’s most significant agenda is undoubtedly reaffirming Malaysia’s commitment to enhancing regional cooperation.

This can be achieved when it assumes Asean’s rotating chair by leveraging the group’s multilateral platform to tackle regional issues peacefully, including territorial disputes, Anwar said.

In his speech at the Nikkei conference, he also asserted that Asia possesses the economic weight, strategic capacity and collaborative might necessary to navigate geopolitical and geo-economic challenges.

Asean has a combined gross domestic product of approximately US$3.7 trillion with over 670 million people in population.

It is forecast to be the world’s fourth-largest economy by 2030, which lends itself to playing a pivotal role in global and Asia’s economic fortunes.

Anwar also alluded to the 10-member South-east Asian bloc as being relatively successful, remaining one of the most peaceful regional organisations with little to no conflict between members.

Against such a scenario, the time has come for the group to advance its security, political and economic pillars to the next level.

For its part, Malaysia, as chair, remains dedicated to fostering shared growth, bolstering regional cooperation and maintaining openness to trade, development, and commerce.

These efforts aim to keep the region dynamic, stable, and adaptable.

Anwar emphasised Malaysia’s proactive stance in safeguarding its economic stability despite global uncertainties and external factors.

He said that by implementing straightforward pre-emptive measures, the country aims to bolster confidence in its economic resilience.

This approach suggests a commitment to managing potential challenges and maintaining a steady economic footing, even in the face of external turbulence.

This approach has proven effective and partly achieved by Putrajaya’s fiercely neutral stand.

Anwar also cited Malaysia’s vibrant semiconductor industry which bolsters the country’s position as a reliable regional partner in manufacturing, trade, and innovation.

Amidst escalating tensions and trade restrictions in microchips, he said stability, a skilled labour force and economic and geopolitical non-alignment have made Malaysia a haven for investors.

Even when chided with hard questions during the Nikkei Forum, Anwar, who is also the finance minister, reiterated that Malaysia is steadfast in its stand of not taking sides in the rivalry between the US and China, stressing that Putrajaya will not be part of any Cold War mindset.

Malaysia will continue to engage and consider the US an important ally and at the same time, enhance its ties with China because “they are our important neighbour: too close, too important and too strategic to ignore”, he said.

Anwar conveyed a similar message when engaging with government and business leaders, students and the international media fraternity, including the importance of dialogue and cooperation to ensure peace, stability and prosperity.

Japan also provided a platform for Anwar to address his recent meeting with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, during which the prime minister reiterated that the purpose was to advocate for a peaceful resolution to the Gaza conflict.

“Gaza’s situation is a humanitarian crisis on an unprecedented scale. Never mind the differences in terms of ideologies or bilateral relations with other states. But can we in this period and age condone and turn a blind eye towards the massive atrocities?

“That is why I asserted that we go for a peaceful resolution, support the position taken by neighbouring Muslim countries and the international community, and force both parties to accept peace and a two-state solution,” he told the Nikkei Forum.

Japan also responded by expressing its willingness to cooperate with Malaysia in providing humanitarian aid to the people of Palestine during a bilateral meeting with his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida.

This marks Anwar’s second visit to Japan within six months, underscoring the comprehensive and significant 68-year relationship between the two nations.

Fittingly, Anwar acknowledged Japan’s pivotal role and support in Malaysia’s economic progress.

“Etched in our memory is the humble beginnings in Penang during the 1970s, when companies, such as Clarion and Hitachi, were part of the “Eight Samurai” — the first wave of electrical and electronics products (E&E) manufacturing investment into the country,” he said.

Anwar pointed out that developed countries like Japan have played a significant role in the growth and development of Asean economies, benefiting from Japanese investment and trade.

He expressed his desire to extend such cooperation beyond trade, particularly in education, research, technological exchanges, and culture.

Highlighting a shared vision for Asia’s future based on stability, connectivity, and cooperation in support of a rules-based order, Anwar underscored the confidence that both nations’ relations will only strengthen further in the future. — Bernama

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