HIS office has lost count the number of times Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (pic) has visited Japan – official or private ones.
Japan has always had a special place for the Prime Minister and in June, soon after he became Prime Minister again, Tokyo was his first stop.
Beginning tomorrow, he will be making another working visit to Japan again but for a special reason.
The Prime Minister will receive “The Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers” award from Emperor Akihito on Tuesday.
“It seems the Emperor himself wants to give the award to Dr Mahathir,” said an aide.
It is understood that Dr Mahathir will be the last foreign leader to receive the award before the emperor abdicates on April 30.
The Japanese Embassy in a statement said Dr Mahathir is among this year’s foreign recipients and this is an acknowledgement of his contributions towards strengthening bilateral relations and promoting friendship between Japan and Malaysia.
Dr Mahathir, according to the statement, made extraordinary contributions for close bilateral ties for decades, citing his Look East Policy which provided opportunities for more than 16,000 youths who studied in Japan.
And to make this Japan trip more memorable, the 84-year-old emperor has invited Dr Mahathir and his wife Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Ali for a luncheon at the palace the following day.
As with his previous working trips, the Prime Minister’s Office has packed his three-day trip to Tokyo with meetings and visits to two local universities.
He will meet his counterpart Shinzo Abe again and top of the agenda is Dr Mahathir’s request during their meeting in June for Japan to extend yen credit in the form of soft loans to help resolve the Malaysian government’s debt.
When tabling Budget 2019, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng revealed that the Japanese government had offered to guarantee up to 200 billion yen for the issuance of 10-year Samurai bonds via the Japan Bank of International Cooperation at an indicative coupon rate of 0.65% to be issued before March next year.
Dr Mahathir in an immediate reaction on Friday said the bulk of the RM7.4bil proceeds from the bond issuance are meant to retire the government’s existing loans.
However, an aide to the Prime Minister said Malaysia would probably raise possible soft loans from Japan as Malaysia’s loans are still “a lot”.
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