A Nation with Diversity Continues a Strong Relationship with Japan
—– The Malaysian economy has been affected by weak commodity export prices and economic slowdown in China. How do you forecast the Malaysian economy?
The Malaysian economy has been well diversified, and showed resilience in regard to the disruption of the global economy. We have halved our dependency on oil and gas from 2009 to 2015. The Economic Transformation Program (ETP) was launched in 2010 by the government to turn Malaysia into a high-income economy by 2020. Malaysia is now focusing on our newer, knowledge-based economy. Although Malaysia’s annual growth rate decelerated to 4.2% for January-March this year, FDI inflows are the biggest in Southeast Asia. The OECD predicts an average of around a 4% growth of our economy over the next four years. The Malaysian economy will be solid through the coming year based on the various forecasts and implementation of the ETP.
—– Malaysia is a multi-ethnic country having a plurality of religions, such as Islam, Christianity and Buddhism. How do you maintain the social and security stability?
Malaysia is one of the most unique countries in the world because of our diversity. Diversity is our strength and it gives Malaysia its distinct identity. It requires tolerance, moderation, mutual respect and inclusion to maintain social stability and security. Economic policy and education is important for achieving the social balance. The Government introduced New Economic Policies to reduce the economic gap among the various ethnic groups. In addition, the concept of power sharing in government is also unique. The National Front, a broad coalition of ethnically oriented parties, has ruled a coalition government from the very beginning and cabinet ministers are allocated among political parties representing each major ethnic group. The government is very attentive to any society, and different religions and cultures coexist in harmony. Islam in Malaysia is always moderate. Moderation is also focused on in our foreign policy.
—– Malaysia’s “Look East Policy” has led to great success in nation-building. What are the challenges of the LEP2.0, which is a new phase of the LEP？
The Look East Policy was launched in 1982 to learn the experience of the rapid economic development of Japan and Korea during the post-war period. More than 15,000 Malaysians studied and acquired Japanese-style high technology, work ethic and managerial skills. They have contributed lot to Malaysia’s progress and development. LEP2.0 is a new framework designed in line with our ETP, and is expected to attract Japanese companies to trade and invest in Malaysia under the Malaysia-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement. It emphasizes cooperation in new areas, including clean technology, Islamic Finance and Halal industries.
—– How do you see the recent relations between Japan and Malaysia? What is your priority mission for further strengthening the good bilateral ties?
Malaysia and Japan have enjoyed excellent relations in various areas. The Prime Ministers of both countries agreed to elevate our bilateral relationship to a “Strategic Partnership” in May of last year. It is my priority to keep the positive momentum going, and we want more movement of people between our two countries. The increasing number of tourists and the exchange of students indicate a clear sign of our strong relations. Already, about 1,400 Japanese companies operate in Malaysia. In the new industrial sector, I am promoting the Halal products and services in Japan since Malaysia is a well-known Halal hub. There is a huge potential for Halal industries in Japan.
—– Malaysia has been ranked as the most popular destination of Japanese long-stay travelers for 10 consecutive years. What is the attraction of the Malaysian tourism?
More than 3,600 Japanese citizens participated in the Malaysia My Second Home program. The Japanese are the second largest participants in it. We have great weather all year round, beautiful beaches, world-class hotels and hospitals, etc. Our people are very friendly, cultures are diverse and the food is amazing. We are a relatively cheaper destination too. These are our selling points. In 2015, about 440,0000 Japanese visited Malaysia and 305,000 Malaysians came to Japan.
—– The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) was established last December. What cooperation from Japan for the AEC will Malaysia expect?
Japan has been always supportive of the ASEAN activities. ASEAN is Japan’s second largest trading partner after China, and in 2013 Japan was the largest investor in ASEAN after the EU. Japanese companies operate in more than 8,000 locations in ASEAN. We expect Japan’s continued cooperation for infrastructure development that provides greater connectivity, reduces poverty and improves healthcare access, narrowing the development gap in our region.