Japan, Malaysia Strengthen Bilateral Ties Amid China’s Increasing Assertiveness

By Aldgra Fredly
Aldgra Fredly
Aldgra Fredly
Aldgra Fredly is a freelance writer based in Malaysia, covering Asia Pacific news for The Epoch Times.
December 3, 2021 Updated: December 3, 2021

Japan and Malaysia have agreed to strengthen bilateral ties and push for “concrete cooperation” between the two countries amid China’s assertive activities in the East and South China Seas.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his Malaysian counterpart Ismail Sabri Yaakob exchanged views on regional affairs in a phone call that lasted about 25 minutes on Dec. 2, according to Japan’s Foreign Ministry.

Kishida voiced strong opposition to any “unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East and South China Seas,” echoing Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi’s stance on the regional waters during a meeting with Vietnamese counterpart Phan Van Giang on Nov. 23.

Kishida told the Malaysian prime minister that he intends to boost “concrete cooperation” in certain areas to achieve the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” and strengthen bilateral ties ahead of the 65th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between the two nations.

If that’s not all, the Japanese leader also expressed readiness to promote cooperation with Malaysia in a wide range of issues, including security and maritime safety, among others.

“In response, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri expressed his appreciation for Japan’s various cooperation including the vaccine donation, and stated that he would like to further strengthen bilateral cooperation toward the 40th anniversary of the Look East Policy next year,” Japan’s foreign ministry stated.

Ismail Sabri took to his Facebook page to voice his firm stance on the South China Sea and urged all parties to avoid provocative actions that could potentially exacerbate tensions in the regions. He emphasized the need for the South China Sea to remain “a peaceful and stable trading zone.”

“We also discussed matters of mutual interest, particularly on efforts to expand cooperation in the fields of economy, education, trade, defense, and human resource development,” Ismail Sabri wrote.

The two leaders also exchanged views on North Korea, which has been increasing military build-up and weapons; and the situation in Myanmar. Kishida said he would support the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ initiatives on Myanmar.

China increased its military activity in the South China Sea, which it claims rights to almost all of it, despite Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam all having competing claims to China.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague dismissed Beijing’s claims to much of the South China Sea in 2016, in favor of the Philippines and other nations in the region. It ruled that China’s claims had no legal basis.

However, the verdict has had little impact on China’s behavior, with Beijing refusing to abide by it. The resulting territorial disputes are ongoing, with Beijing continuing to pursue its claims to vast swathes of the sea based on its so-called “nine-dash line,” which includes the reef.

Reuters contributed to this article.

Aldgra Fredly is a freelance writer based in Malaysia, covering Asia Pacific news for The Epoch Times.