In Tokyo, Anwar sets the tone for Asean chairmanship

TOKYO: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim capped his short but fruitful work visit to Japan with news that RM1.9 billion in potential investments and exports were secured from the country.

But the bigger story from the Land of the Rising Sun was the "investments" Anwar made in the time spent engaging with government and businesses leaders, students and the international media fraternity.

In almost each and every engagement, Anwar set the tone for what Asean, under Malaysia's chairmanship next year, would look like.

From his keynote address at the Nikkei Forum 29th Future of Asia to a media session with the international press, Anwar stressed the importance of dialogue and cooperation to ensure peace, stability and prosperity.

During his session at the Nikkei Forum, Anwar said Malaysia would remain "fiercely neutral" amid tensions between the United States and China.

"Nobody, no country should dictate (what another country does)," he said during the session.

When asked hard questions on Beijing's expansionism in the South China Sea and the possibility of escalating conflicts, Anwar acknowledged there were issues but said the way forward was through dialogue with the ultimate goal of ensuring peace and stability.

He acknowledged there were differencesn with China, just as there were differencesn with other countries in the region as well as the United States.

But these issues were not a stumbling block to strong bilateral relations and economic opportunities.

Malaysia would not get sucked into a "Cold War mindset" and that when issues arise, the solution lay in dialogue, he said.

Even when pressed about his meeting with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, Anwar did not shy away from calling him a friend.

He said it was because Haniyeh was a friend that he could not only talk to him but appeal for Hamas to accept the recommendations of the countries in the Middle East and the international community to pursue peace.

Anwar said he also asked Haniyeh to accept a two state solution and agree to the exchange of captives.

During Anwar's bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, the spirit of collaboration and cooperation seemed to be the overarching theme.

Both countries took stock of their collaboration in various areas including trade, maritime security, education, energy transition, renewable energy and higher education among others.

The prime minister also managed to squeeze in discussions with Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, as well as top leaders from Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia and Mongolia who attended the Nikkei Forum.

On Asean, Anwar said the bloc must focus on reinforcing its economic strengths to maintain unity.

He plans to enhance Asean's focus on trade, investment, collaboration, and comparative advantage once Malaysia assumes the chairmanship next year.

At the same time, he also called for Asean to be more "aggressive and dynamic" to ensure that it remains a cohesive force.

This would be especially important given the civil war in Myanmar which killed over 1,000 people since late last year and displaced many more.

Anwar acknowledged the crisis challenged Asean's non-interference policy but said he would push for greater dialogue with Myanmar.

In one of his final events in Tokyo, Anwar paid tribute to scholar, Toshihiko Izutsu, who translated the Quran to Japanese.

Izutsu was also known for his writings which encouraged a greater understanding of various faiths.

In his speech, Anwar spoke on the importance of empathy and interfaith dialogue in fostering peace and harmony, a narrative that will be crucial as Malaysia assumes chairmanship of Asean, among the most diverse regions in the world.

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