Japan and Malaysia sign $3.7m maritime security assistance deal

Japan and Malaysia sign $3.7m maritime security assistance deal
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim applaud as Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa poses with her Malaysian counterpart Mohamad Hasan after a signing ceremony at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo, Japan, Dec 16, 2023.
PHOTO: Franck Robichon/Pool via Reuters

TOKYO — Japan and Malaysia signed a security assistance deal on Saturday (Dec 16) including a grant of 400 million yen (S$3.7 million) to boost Malaysia's maritime security, as Asian nations seek to counter an increasingly assertive China.

Japan will provide equipment such as rescue boats and supplies under the official security assistance deal, signed by the two countries' foreign ministers on the sidelines of a Tokyo summit marking 50 years of ties between Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

Japanese Prime Minister Kishida welcomed the elevation of the Japan-Malaysia relationship to a "comprehensive strategic partnership", Japan's foreign ministry said in a statement.

In addition to Malaysia, Asean members the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts of the South China Sea disputed by China, which claims almost all of the waterway that is a conduit for more than US$3 trillion (S$4 trillion) of annual ship-borne commerce. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 said China's claims had no legal basis.

China and Japan last week accused each other of maritime incursions after a confrontation between their coast guards in waters around islands they both claim in the East China Sea.

Japan's aid to Malaysia follows similar deals with the Philippines and Bangladesh this year and is part of a plan announced in April for Japan to provide developing countries with financial assistance to bolster their defences.

In the three-day summit through Sunday, Japan is offering Asean members support to boost their standing as international actors and help them manage their relations with others, including China, said an official at Japan's foreign ministry.

Kishida is expected to meet separately with the leaders of all the Asean members, which also include Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand, Laos and Timor-Leste.

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