TOKYO: Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s first official visit to Japan last week as Deputy Prime Minister has not only reinforced long-standing bilateral economic ties but also paved the way for cooperation in new growth areas particularly in the halal industry.
There is much that Malaysia can offer Japan in terms of its expertise in producing halal goods and services since a million Muslim tourists and athletes are expected to converge in Japan when Tokyo hosts the 2020 Olympics.
Malaysia’s reputable status as the world’s leading halal hub and the global reference and trade centre for the new mainstream halal industry is highly regarded by the Japanese government, which should rightly be exploited.
There is much Kuala Lumpur can also offer in terms of halal certification, technology transfer and the standard operating procedures in determining halal products and services.
The Japanese government is keen to transform Tokyo into a Muslim-friendly destination for which Malaysia stands ready to lend a helping hand.
As such, there is a need for consistent high-level engagement between Malaysia and Japan and Ahmad Zahid’s visit underscores that point.
Besides, Japan itself is home to some 100,000 Muslims, of whom 10 per cent are native Japanese, while the rest are foreigners residing in Japan.
As the deputy prime minister pointed out, Malaysia will assist Japan’s multi-billion halal industry, whereby officers from the Department of Islamic Development and Halal Development Corporation will be stationed in Tokyo.
Looking ahead, deeper economic cooperation with Japan is essential as Malaysia positions itself as a strategic gateway for the ASEAN Economic Community and more so since Japan is the world’s third largest economy.
At the 34th joint Japan-Malaysia Economic Association and the Malaysia-Japan Economic Association (JAMECA-MAJECA) conference here, Ahmad Zahid invited Japanese and other global investors to tap business opportunities in the enormous ASEAN market, using Malaysia as the springboard to the region.
Japan is among the first to invest in Malaysia way back in the 70’s, mainly in the electrical and electronics sector, which helped catapult Malaysia into the foremost producer of electrical items globally.
Besides Japanese multinationals, it is also a major participant in Malaysia’s industrial development as evident by the substantial participation of its small and medium scale enterprises in Malaysia’s manufacturing sector.
Since then, Japan has remained among the top investors in Malaysia.
Moreover, Malaysia-Japan relations has blossomed, expanding into other areas such as maritime security, peacekeeping, education, tourism and disaster relief.
These issues, especially that of reconstruction after a disaster, was among the highlights of Ahmad Zahid’s inaugural visit to Japan.
They were discussed in his meeting with top Japanese officials including Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his deputy, Taro Aso.
Malaysia will send a team consisting officials from the National Disaster Management Agency to Japan to learn from its experiences and know-how in managing natural disasters and reducing the risks of such calamities.
In the process, Ahmad Zahid expressed the hope it will further enhance Malaysia’s preparedness to face any natural disaster in the future.
Malaysia also welcomed Japan’s participation in the international bidding process for the Southeast Asia’s first High-Speed Rail project, connecting Kuala Lumpur-Singapore in about 90 minutes compared with three hours it would currently take by road.
With its high technology and good track record in high-speed train systems, Japan is keen to be involved in the project and signalled their readiness to offer a reciprocal package for Malaysia.
Ahmad Zahid stressed that Malaysia very much needs an offset programme which is why the contract will be awarded based not just on price and specifications, but on the benefits accruing to the government and people.
The memorandum of understanding to facilitate the project is expected to be signed by Malaysia and Singapore next month.
Ahmad Zahid’s meetings in Japan were fruitful and constructive, covering a wide range of bilateral and regional issues.
It has set the stage for more substantive linkages by the time both countries celebrate their 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations next year in trade and investment and especially in the development of Japan’s halal industry.