Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said he wants to review his country's membership in the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact led by Japan, but also plans to revive a 1980s policy under which Japan served as an economic model for Malaysia.
"The old government may have (had) some understanding with its counterparts, but we want to review that understanding," he told the Nikkei Asian Review in an interview published last Friday, adding that he will also review China-related deals entered into by his predecessor, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, to put a lid on national debt.
Tun Dr Mahathir arrives in Tokyo today for a three-day working visit - his first abroad since being re-elected Prime Minister last month.
Dr Mahathir, who was prime minister from 1981 to 2003, will deliver a keynote speech at the 24th Nikkei Future of Asia conference tomorrow and also meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
With Mr Najib seen as having leaned heavily towards China, experts will be parsing Dr Mahathir's visit for clues on his administration's approach to East Asia.
Japan will welcome any revival of the Look East Policy launched in 1982 to urge Malaysians to adopt East Asian work ethics, management and other policies for commercial and industrial expansion. Japan was the model to emulate initially, but South Korea was included after the Japanese economy lost steam.
DPM Teo in Tokyo for three-day visit, to speak at Nikkei conference
TOKYO • Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean arrived in Tokyo yesterday for a three-day visit, during which he will deliver a keynote at the Nikkei's marquee annual conference tomorrow.
DPM Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, will meet Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and other senior Japanese politicians, as well as other conference attendees, the Prime Minister's Office in Singapore said in a statement yesterday.
Mr Teo is accompanied by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and officials from the Prime Minister's Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Finance.
Among the attendees at this year's 24th Nikkei Future of Asia conference, themed "Keeping Asia open - how to achieve prosperity and stability", are Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, South Korean Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Strategy and Finance Kim Dong Yeon and Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Truong Hoa Binh.
Mr Teo takes the place of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as Singapore's representative at this year's event, the Conference Secretariat confirmed with The Sunday Times.
This, the secretariat added, comes as the Republic kicks into high gear for the historic summit between the leaders of the United States and North Korea on Tuesday. PM Lee will be receiving US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whose official title is Chairman of the State Affairs Commission.
The late former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew was a regular fixture of the Nikkei conference.
DPM Teo will leave Tokyo tomorrow.
Dr Mahathir said he will relook the multilateral trade deal now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP-11, after the United States withdrew from it. He said he believes weaker economies like Malaysia are at a disadvantage under the current terms.
Any review or pullout by Malaysia will not pull the brakes on the TPP-11 as under a failsafe clause, the deal will still take effect once ratified by at least six member countries. Singapore is a party to the deal.
The Malaysian Premier also said he wanted to review a proposed code of conduct on the South China Sea, which Asean and Beijing has been negotiating.
The Malaysian Foreign Ministry said in a statement yesterday Dr Mahathir's visit will "enable Malaysia to highlight its current policies towards Japan and other countries in the region, especially related to foreign investments and trade".
His attendance at the Nikkei conference, of which The Straits Times is a media partner, will give Malaysia a chance "to engage in initiatives aimed at greater economic cooperation between countries in the region", it added.
University of Tokyo political scientist Heng Yee Kuang said Japan will see the visit as a chance to "encourage a stronger Malaysian position on Tokyo's pet security concerns over the freedom of maritime navigation and Chinese island-building in the South China Sea".
Mr Masatami Kasagi, a Japanese expert on South-east Asian matters, said he sees Dr Mahathir as "neither pro-China nor pro-Japan".
He pointed to the nomination of Malaysian tycoon Robert Kuok to the country's newly formed Council of Eminent Persons as Dr Mahathir's intention to keep good ties with China.
And given Dr Mahathir's pragmatism, Mr Bunn Nagara, a senior fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia, said: "Wherever there is any kind of mutual benefit, Dr Mahathir will go for it. It is not about substituting one for another, but to increase the total in foreign investment and trade."