By Collins Chong Yew Keat

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Malaysia’s new elevation of ties with Japan to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership is long overdue, and while it has been late in the game, future joint defence prospects remain critical. Both face shifting threat settings, and are in need of one another’s relative strength and advantage.
Malaysia remains critical to Japan’s medium and long term strategic calculations in the realm of defence and security, maritime domain deterrence and supply chain protection and serving as a second front fallback option, while Japan continues to serve as among the most important defence and security partners to Malaysia’s growing security and deterrence needs.  
As Tokyo expands its Official Security Assistance (OSA) reach and target countries, Malaysia sits at the centre of prime maritime and trade route that is heavily depended on by Japan, starting from the entrance of the Strait of Malacca to the opening of the South China Sea which will remain the primary channel of energy, mineral and critical resources transit for Japan, especially in the providing stable and consistent support lines during conflicts.
Japan is now entering the elite world of defense and security diplomacy by undertaking a charm offensive, both in hard and soft power expansion.
Apart from strengthening defense diplomacy with China in mind, Japan is well aware of the importance of Malaysia assuming the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2025 and the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of ASEAN-Japan Friendship and Cooperation this year.
While current security ally, the US will be depended upon in maintaining the status quo of regional peace and stability and the preservation of the rules based order and a free and open Indo Pacific, the inevitable assertiveness of Beijing will squeeze Tokyo’s security options in depending on Quad and Washington alone.
Tokyo continues to face the worst security fear since WWII in a three pronged threat axis of Moscow-Beijing-Pyongyang, and realises that any moves by Beijing on Taiwan would implicate it directly in a potential pre-emptive strike on Washington’s base in Okinawa and also to reduce the lethality of the anti China forces and deterrent capacity in the dependence on Tokyo and Seoul’s existing readiness to provide second strike support. 
Tokyo is well aware of it being dragged directly in any future move by Beijing or Moscow, and while Japan’s own capabilities in its near water power projection and area denial/anti access A2/AD capacity will still be efficacious alongside the combined capacity of trilateral power of the Camp David pact, long term regional support remains pivotal for Japan’s long game and the preparation for the impact of a protracted conflict with Beijing or Moscow.
The long game will require the returns on long term economic, energy and supply chain security and assurance for Japan in its quest to safeguard both its sustaining conventional needs as well as self -sufficiency in critical resources.
Malaysia remains a traditional partner in economic and trade domains, and with the rising tensions and vulnerability in South China Sea which will impact on Malaysia’s oil and gas revenue which forms the country’s main source of income, Japan will be hopeful to leverage on its track record of trust and tangible and responsible development, aid and transfer of technology and capacity in the country to deepen security and defence overtures in a shared risk scenario and setting.
Players in the Indo-Pacific region that sit at the critical geostrategic nexus of maritime trade and security routes – especially Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and India – have a direct role in ensuring Japan’s future food and energy security as well as in providing critical support lines during times of conflict.
The existing Quad and Camp David trilateral are insufficient for Japan to have a balanced approach to its security and defense structure. The new OSA, combined with regional engagement through responsible and trusted FDI and economic development can fill the gaps.
Development support that is interlinked and intertwined with security assistance is needed to present a complete and balanced picture of Japan as a trusted player with a historical track record and legacy of being a responsible regional major power. 
Malaysia is a key recipient of these initiatives, as it is critical both for Japan’s food and energy security and hard power assurances. Malaysia’s role as a provider of palm oil, and its potential role in semiconductor and rare earths supply chains, only add to its importance in energy and food security.
Robust and consistent economic ties will provide spillover impact on security interdependence. In 2022, Malaysia's trade with Japan was valued at RM181.51 billion (USD41.21 billion), contributing 6.4 per cent of Malaysia's total trade and making it Malaysia's fourth-largest trading partner for eight successive years since 2015.
Malaysia’s Central Connecting Role for Japan
Malaysia’s enticing new leadership and prospect in the region in the field of upcoming future sectors especially EV, semiconductor, green and digital economy and carbon and space initiatives provide spillover impact to the higher end goal of securing defence and security second line of support for Tokyo’s expansive security calculations for itself and the region.
Malaysia serves as a bridge to other vital actors in the Middle East, the Muslim world, and the Global South, being the upcoming power that is able to bridge the gap that exists for Japan in its ties with the Global South and the Muslim world, and further expand on Japan’s new soft power initiative in capturing trust and offering values-based model.
Other existing and future plans are increasing Japan-Malaysia economic and technology cooperation in sectors including the green and digital economy, electronics, semiconductors, natural resources, talent mobility, and people-to-people integration.
In these efforts, Japan is using existing commercial ties to increase its economic security and reduce its dependence on any one partner. At the same time, economic cooperation based on mutual trust and responsibility is serving as an enabler in increasing interdependence in the security realm.
Malaysia serves a critical role in being a living and historical display of Japan’s successful model of trust and engagement based on mutual respect and long term commitment of sustainable communal and national development.
With Malaysia’s own Look East Policy of emulating and transferring the best Japanese model and ethical high ground of socio-economic transformation, Malaysia will be used by Japan as it prime model of shining example in the way a model of foreign aid and foreign policy is conducted, and to use this as the stepping stone for a larger regional overture and trust building.
Already enjoying the fruits of the decades-old labor of consistent and high level trade and people-led connections, the shift to a greater emphasis on areas of high politics is imminent. The time is ripe for a strategic reorientation of Tokyo-Kuala Lumpur ties to pivot toward a focus on defense and security, in light of both players’ insecurity both in the traditional and non-traditional domains.
*Collins Chong Yew Keat is a Foreign Affairs and Security Strategist with Universiti Malaya.*