By Noor Soraya Mohammad Jamal
KUALA LUMPUR, June 3 (Bernama) — It may not be an exaggeration to say that covering the recent trip of Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to Tokyo was akin to attending a diplomacy and leadership masterclass.
The 93-year-old statesman’s eloquence and articulacy, underpinned by his vast experience, came to the fore, as usual, at Nikkei’s 25th International Conference on the Future of Asia which he used as a platform to convey Malaysia’s position and foreign policy moving forward, and set an example for his Cabinet ministers to emulate.
Amid the current high-profile trade war and tit-for-tat action between the world’s two largest economies – where one-time advocators for free and open trade have turned protectionists, fanning confrontation and an inward-looking mindset – Dr Mahathir’s speech was bold and sharp, as always.
Lambasting the aggressive mindset of some countries, he said the world remains primitive if it cannot solve problems except by confrontation, violence, destruction and killing a huge number of people.
He spoke of what he believed to be a failed world order and called for the re-examination of countries’ relations, especially in the context of conflict resolution.
His message for the rule of law was as lucid as ever – conflicts must be resolved through negotiation, arbitration and the court of law.
Dr Mahathir said the world must accept the new reality and adapt to the fact that Asia is no longer an imitator and has for years been producing better products, following improved research and development which have propped the capability of countries in the East.
During a dialogue at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, he made it clear that trade wars are foolish, do not serve any purpose and disturb the economic progress of countries.
While he acknowledged that both the United States and China are Malaysia’s significant investing partners, he said he would like to see a peaceful and less confrontational attitude between the two giant economies.
“The gunboat diplomacy is out of date. Concentrate on what you do best and try and compete, don’t try to conquer,” he said when addressing almost 150 foreign correspondents attending the dialogue.
For almost two hours, Dr Mahathir expertly fielded questions ranging from trade wars to the tension between the US and Iran, the controversial rare earth producer Lynas, the shooting down of Flight MH17 and even calls for him to act as the intermediary in Japan, Korea and China relations.
There was a light moment when Malaysian journalists asked him, at the end of the working trip from May 29 to 31, whether he had anticipated all the questions thrown to him as he always seems to be ready with an answer.
He said: “I know what they’re going to ask. I am the Prime Minister. I must know what is happening. I know the answer before they start asking.”
Dr Mahathir, however, cheekily hinted that he is already weary of the popular question about the secret to his vitality.
He also dismissed the notion that Malaysia is now taking a softer stance towards China, as reflected by his decision to continue using Huawei technology despite it being blacklisted by the US, but said the country would rather take a more pragmatic approach.
“I think we are reasonable. We want to be friendly with all the countries in the world. We do not want to be at war with people,” he said, adding that it was necessary to continue using the service of the Chinese telecom giant to bolster Malaysia’s quest for technological advancement.
Dr Mahathir, who has spoken out against some of China’s investments in Malaysia, said there are times when the East needs to look to the West and cited France and Germany’s successful negotiation to settle their differences instead of prolonging their war.
Although he seems to have a penchant of taking jabs at the Western world, he is not reluctant to give credit when and where it is due.
The Japan visit, on the whole, has helped to elevate Malaysia-Japan relations to a new level since the rejuvenation of Malaysia’s Look East Policy of emulating work ethics and business techniques from the East and is already being reinforced by deeper economic ties and collaborations.
Dr Mahathir’s fondness for Japan is no secret, and the feeling is mutual. He has a large following in the Land of the Rising Sun and the Japanese often show their appreciation, including with grand send-offs by the hotel staff, after his positive and successful round of talks and speeches there.
During a business dialogue last week, Japanese conglomerates even pledged their commitment to expand their investments and businesses in Malaysia and campaign to get more firms to invest in the country.
Dr Mahathir’s Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe also assured Malaysia of help to rejuvenate its economy and said the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) is ready to consider further support if Malaysia wishes to issue additional Samurai bonds in the future.
The mission to Japan also led to an exciting development on the education front. Tsukuba University expressed its desire to open a branch campus in Malaysia – a step that is expected to be emulated by other institutions of higher learning from that country.
Malaysia, in return, would also send more students to study engineering in Japan, said Dr Mahathir.
This recent trip is Dr Mahathir’s fourth to Japan since taking office as Malaysia’s seventh prime minister in May last year.
This alone should reflect the solid and longstanding bilateral relationship between Malaysia and Japan, even amidst the ever-changing dynamics of the international order.
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