Datuk Seri Azman Ujang, Chairman of the Bernana Board
THREE Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's visits to Japan in five months have kept the Malaysia-Japan bonds strong in their power, always to the delight of the peoples of both countries.
Mahathir made his first official trip abroad in June shortly after becoming his prime minister for the second time and Japan was naturally his first choice.
As a 22-year-old prime minister for the first time since 1981, he visited Japan tirelessly more than 100 times mainly to promote his "Look East" policy.
This Mahathir brainwash is one of the most successful foreign policy initiatives that Malaysia has committed and led to Japan, which is already the country's largest and early foreign investor, further strengthening its financial and economic assistance to Malaysia.
The East Asian politics, what Mahathir wants the most, is to teach and accept the Japanese ethics of work and value that transports Japan from a country without natural resources to the world's largest economy.
Malaysia has sent more than 16,000 students and trainees to Japan over the years since the introduction of politics and these well-trained Malaysian workers in Japan make a difference in their workplaces.
However, it was Mahathir's newly-founded visit to Japan, which has attracted the most interest and attention, and it was undoubtedly the most fruitful.
Japan could not help finding out that the previous Malaysian government Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak had overthrown the Look East policy, while Najib himself had rarely visited Japan as a nine-year prime minister but was more inclined to China.
"Earlier Malaysian administration was hooked to China before Mahathir took over in May, but he changed diplomatic policies and promoted much closer diplomatic cooperation with Japan," said a Japanese Foreign Ministry official.
Prime Minister's ordinary tours favorite for a foreign destination are the clearest sign that Look East policy is good and alive again.
When the new Pakatan Harapan government came into force in May, it postponed the high-speed rail link between Malaysia and Singapore that China was also interested in building on the rise in government debt and the high cost of the project.
During a visit to Beijing in August, Mahathir warned of a "new version of colonialism", which obviously refers to China's "Belt and Road" initiative to build infrastructure in various countries, including Asia.
And this time, according to the New Look East policy, the Prime Minister said that Malaysia is examining the whole Japanese education system from day-care to college education.
Things are moving very fast in this direction and three Japanese universities have revealed plans to establish branches in Malaysia.
Tsukuba University, one of Japan's oldest and leading research universities, is expected to begin in 2020, while the Nippon Designers School will start next year. The other one who has shown interest in his presence is Ritsumeik University of Applied Pacific.
Following his most recent visit, Japan has also agreed to help Malaysia to cope with the large foreign debts of the states estimated by the previous government to be over RM1 trillion.
The Japanese government has offered to secure a sum of EUR 200 billion (7.4 billion) in samurai bonds with a 10-year term. Yen-denominated bonds, which the National Bank of Japan's international co-operation must provide for a 0.65% reference coupon rate, is expected to be released in March.
Malaysia first requested Yen loans at the first meeting of Mahathir with its Japanese counterpart Shinzo Aben in June.
Cheap bonds would indeed be useful to retire in Malaysia for some of the expensive loans made by the previous government.
Abe has also announced that in the future such bonds will be more likely to ease Malaysian financial disadvantages.
"I told Mahathir that Japan is investigating in Malaysia the possibility of extending yen loans focusing primarily on transport, training and human resources development, and I hope this research will lead to concrete cooperation in the future," Abe told Mahathir in Tokyo.
The Japanese Railways Expert Group will be sent to Malaysia later this month as part of the research to achieve this goal.
Analysts said that after a two-year suspension for Malaysian and Singapore high-speed rail projects has been removed, Japan, which has invented the Shinkansen bullet school system, is expected to have a stronger role in project supply as it is the largest infrastructure project in Southeast Asia.
However, what made Mahathir's most recent visit to Japan more prominent and more memorable is the "Paulowania Flowers' Order of Great Size" by Emperor Akihit.
It is the highest award for foreign statesmen for their contribution to Japan's bilateral relations with Japan and their contribution to the region.
In this respect, no other historian might answer Mahathir's initiatives and actions.
For the Japanese, he is also one of the foreign leaders closest to their hearts, and this could only congratulate what is ahead of both nations and peoples. – Bernama