TOKYO: If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the one of Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Shinzo Abe by a bamboo tree speaks volumes.
The image was taken on a sunny Thursday morning after the two leaders held a bilateral meeting.
The picture of the Prime Ministers of Malaysia and Japan, smiling into the camera of Najib’s smartphone with the former’s hand wrapped around a bamboo tree had gone viral with a huge number of “likes”.
At the end of a press conference with the Malaysian media covering Najib’s visit to Japan – which was to attend the Asean-Japan Commemorative Summit to celebrate 40 years of ties between the regional grouping and the Land of the Rising Sun – Najib showed reporters shots of him and Abe at the bamboo tree.
At a press conference after the bilateral meeting, both Abe and Najib spoke of their warm and open relationship, and their body language as seen in the picture said it all.
Relations between Malaysia and Japan is believed to go back as early as the 15th century during the era of the Malacca Sultanate and the Ryukyu Kingdom.
It was recorded in the Rekidai Hoan, an official record of diplomatic documents compiled by the kingdom, that 10 voyages bound for Malacca were made between 1424 and 1630.
Several hundred years later in 1982, then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced an economic policy known as “Look East Policy” which sought to learn from Japan and Korea, their work ethics and practices that have helped the industrial and economic advancements of the two nations.
Thirty one years on, Najib sought the second wave of the policy, known as LEP 2.0 and this was made possible because of the long standing warm relations between Malaysia and Japan.
Malaysia has benefited from the 30 years of the Look East Policy. Najib said “the years in which we turned to face the rising sun were some of the most productive in our history”.
Malaysia got the first taste of Japanese work ethics during the construction of Dayabumi Complex.
Most construction work at that time took a long time to complete but this project was done within two years – from February 1982 to 1984.
International Trade and Industry (Miti) Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed remembered the project as one that “went on day and night and around the clock”, which back then was a rarity.
Today, construction projects achieving completion within 18 months is a norm, thanks to the work values adopted from Japan.
Mustapa said Malaysia was looking for quality investment from Japan under the LEP 2.0 and not just merely “ringgit and sen”.
“We want Japanese firms to offer our people work opportunities that come with research and development and benefit from transfer of technology.
“This will not only help our economy but also complement efforts to have a society that reflects the high income nation status that we aim to achieve,” he added.
Mustapa admitted that the good relations between “two old friends” had put Malaysia in an advantage as far as trade and investment from Japan were concerned.
Because of the long relations, many Japanese companies are turning to Malaysia when it comes to looking for a place to set up hubs.
A few of its automobile manufacturers are exporting their cars to countries in the region from Malaysia. Their reason? Apart from skilled workers, the Government and its economy are stable.
The fact that Japan has agreed to turn the Malaysia-Japan International Institute of Technology into a hub for students from Asean countries to study their technology reflects their high regard for Malaysia.
Japan is also leveraging from this warm relations. They are getting internationally-known halal certification to penetrate halal food and cosmetic products in the Middle Eastern market.
Mustapa, whose Miti is the lead ministry in ensuring efforts of the LEP 2.0 were realised, said Japan would remain as a very important source of foreign direct investment for Malaysia.
“But now, we will also be looking at other aspects of investment as we move from labour-intensive market to a more sophisticated one that is high in technology,” he said.
Japan is Malaysia’s third largest trading partner after China and Singapore with total trade amounting to US$47bil (RM149bil), and the country’s top investor.
In Japanese culture, bamboo is a plant that signifies strength and prosperity. And that is exactly what Najib and Abe intend to achieve as they embark on a new effort to further solidify the already good relations between the countries.