Abe offers KL help with high-speed rail

MALAYSIA - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered to help Malaysia build a high-speed rail system as the two countries reaffirmed 56 years of mutual cooperation.

Mr Abe, kicking off his South-east Asia tour with an overnight trip to Malaysia, said at a press conference on Thursday that Japan could help with green and water technology as well.

He said: "Malaysia and Japan agree to cooperate in high technology, with Japan providing the technology in the construction of high-speed rail, water and waste treatment systems."

The high-speed rail link is part of a Singapore-Malaysia agreement inked in February to cut travel time between the city-state and Kuala Lumpur to 90 minutes. It is due to be completed in 2020.

Mr Abe's trip to Malaysia was his second visit; he was last here in 2007. Returned to power in December, he is due to visit Singapore and the Philippines next.

His trip to Malaysia coincided with Japan's entry as the 12th member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade talks. The TPP ended its 18th session here in Kota Kinabalu.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak noted that Japan is Malaysia's second-largest trading partner in East Asia after China, and its third most important trading partner globally.

Japan accounted for nearly 12 per cent of Malaysia's total trade from January to May last year, or RM61.5 billion (S$24.3 billion) of the RM538.6 billion generated.

Datuk Seri Najib invited Japanese financial firms to venture into Malaysia's fast-growing Islamic finance sector, with Malaysia providing technical know-how.

Over the years, Japanese investments in the country have moved from manufacturing to services. Almost 600 of the 1,400 or so Japan-linked firms in Malaysia are involved in the services sector, notably finance and insurance, retail and logistics services, said economics analyst Steven Wong at Malaysia's Institute of Strategic and International Studies.

"But now, both governments have prioritised energy and green technology, which could be on the cards in future," he told The Straits Times.

Meanwhile, more than 650 officials from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Malaysia, Peru, Chile, Canada, Singapore, Vietnam, Mexico and Brunei concluded their 10-day TPP negotiations here on Thursday.

Malaysia's chief negotiator, Mr J. Jayasiri, said at a press conference on Thursday that the talks had entered their "more difficult and sensitive" stage, although lead negotiators are optimistic of a conclusion by the year-end.

The secretive nature of the talks has drawn protests in Malaysia, most notably from former premier Mahathir Mohamad, who says the trade pact would allow large multinational companies to dominate the markets of small countries.

Mr Jayasiri said the Malaysian government will soon make more information public, while the country's trade minister has said the government will withdraw from the talks if the outcome is not favourable to Malaysia.

Consumer groups and trade unionists say they still harbour doubts.

"We are not clear about Malaysia's direction. We're dependent on bits and pieces," Datuk Paul Selvaraj, who heads the Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations, told The Straits Times.

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