Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Reflections upon Visiting Malaysia, 16 Years On
CHINO Keiko  / Journalist

September 28, 2014
In late August, I visited Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. Sixteen years had passed since my last stay, and I saw signs of development and change everywhere.

The Petronas Twin Towers, which had been under construction then, has since given up its title of being the world's tallest building to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Yet, its lower levels bustled with activity throughout the day, as visitors flocked to the flourishing shopping mall housing expensive western brands as well as local food courts. Families, couples and young people came to enjoy shopping, and their relaxed demeanor seemed to testify to the healthy state of the Malaysian economy.

The Twin Towers were constructed under contract by South Korean and Japanese companies, each taking responsibility for one of the towers. Media correspondents based in Singapore at the time, including myself, were given a tour up the tower while it was still covered in scaffolding, guided by the contractor on the Japanese side. When we got to the Skybridge connecting the two towers, one of the reporters voiced his concern about the reliability of Korean construction technology, mentioning how we would all go down together should their tower collapse. At that, the group had burst out in laughter.

With such memories, revisiting the Skybridge was an especially nostalgic moment for me. Of course, far from collapsing - it had been a joke even then - the South Korean economy forged ahead to raise its profile in Asia, and indeed in the world, outstripping even Japan in some areas. This is another major change that has come to pass.

Putrajaya, which lies on the way to the airport, had been a patch of wilderness at the time its development plan was announced. It stands today completely transformed as an impressive new federal administrative center. Its distance from Kuala Lumpur has been a drawback, however, and development of the city has apparently not progressed as smoothly as planned. Still, the sheer determination and dynamism that transformed the plains into a city is dazzling to the eyes of the Japanese, who are feeling frustrated by the slow pace of reconstruction after the 3/11 earthquake.

However, even more than these changes in the economy and scenery, what Japan should truly recognize is the fact that three decades since it was proposed in 1982, the Look East policy that had symbolized Japan's relationship with Malaysia is at a turning point.

Under the Look East policy of learning from Japan and South Korea launched by then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad, the number of Malaysian students and trainees sent to Japan has grown to around 15,000. However, while this is a remarkable figure, it has not been fully appreciated or recognized in Malaysian society, since most former exchange students find employment at Japanese companies or start their own businesses upon returning to their country. There are former students who point out that things may have been different if some of them had chosen a political career.

The Look East returnees enjoy an excellent reputation of being studious, conscientious and highly skilled. Their experience in Japan is valued by foreign firms seeking recruits. Education in Japan provides them with credibility. While this is achievement enough to congratulate ourselves, it would be even better if Japan could motivate some of these individuals to become leaders of their country and society trough the Look East policy. Perhaps Japan and Malaysia should consider cooperating from this standpoint.

For me, this visit has driven home the realization that the times when Japan was considered special had indeed come to an end, not only in Malaysia, but in Asia as a whole. In the latest "Rebalance to Asia" discussion, the United States is not the only country that should be contemplating a return to Asia.

During my stay, The Star, a leading Malaysian newspaper, ran an interesting article. At a gathering of university students, one of the participants had asked Prime Minister Najib Razak: "Which country is Malaysia's preferred ally, China, or the United States?”

To this the Prime Minister replied: "It's not like choosing a football club. We don't have to make a choice between U.S. and China. We'll look at the strengths of both countries." He added that while Malaysia would remain friendly with the two global players, it would not support policies that were not right.

Back in April, Malaysia had reveled in the visit by President Barack Obama, the first U.S. president to pay a visit in half a century. "Everyone was so excited," an acquaintance told me. Prime Minister Mahathir had once provoked a major backlash by proposing an East Asia Economic Caucus that excluded the United States. Those days are now truly behind us. Meanwhile, during the times of Abdul Razak, the country's second prime minister and father of the current Prime Minister, Malaysia became the first Southeast Asian nation to recognize the People's Republic of China. Today, it is Malaysia's biggest trading partner.

Abdul's son Najib is certainly not anti-U.S. as Mahathir had been. However, that doesn't make him pro-U.S., either. China's shadow looms large over Malaysia, too.

Keiko Chino is Guest Columnist of the Sankei Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

千野 境子 / ジャーナリスト

2014年 9月 28日













(筆者は産経新聞 客員論説委員。)
一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Reflections upon Visiting Malaysia, 16 Years On