KUALA LUMPUR – After only two years as Japanese Ambassador to Malaysia, Hiroshi Oka (picture) bids farewell but describes his rather short stint here as “enormously fulfilling and rewarding”.
“I have discovered lots of very firm, solid basis of cooperation between Japan and Malaysia that combines the peoples of the two countries. I am leaving with a strong sense of achievement that I have added a new page to the long-running history of friendship between Japan and Malaysia,” he said in his farewell interview.
Oka, who leaves on Saturday to take up his new appointment as Japan’s Ambassador to Egypt, said as his two years here coincided with the challenging COVID-19 situation, he and his fellow diplomats had to mostly work from home.
“This is very much frustrating for us because as diplomats, the job is to meet the people, (and) to discuss with the people. But thankfully, there’s a lot of new ways of reaching out to the people, like virtual meetings, which is rather an efficient way of having a meeting,” he said.
He pointed out that Japan’s focus in Malaysia now is to reach out to the young people because they are the ones who work as a bridge between Japan and Malaysia and the typical way to talk to the youngsters is to visit them at schools, universities, and other places of learning.
However, because of the movement restrictions under COVID-19, this had not been possible. And instead, virtual classrooms and seminars were organised with the Japanese government, offering annual scholarships to promising Malaysian boys and girls.
Amazingly, Oka added, such effort had resulted in doubling the number of applicants for such scholarships compared to previous years.
Oka’s predecessor, Dr Makio Miyagawa, was Ambassador here for five years.
On this, Oka said Japanese Ambassadors normally serve for six or seven years, and some even stay in one place for the entire period while others split that period into several postings.
“ In my case, I served for the first time as Ambassador to Turkey, then moved to Malaysia; and now I am going to Cairo,” said Oka who has also learnt Arabic.
Japan-Malaysia friendship has been tested and confirmed as very much robust and effective.
“I believe this is an area where we can build on for stronger cooperation and partnership,” he added.
Oka said the 30,000-strong Japanese community in Malaysia was very much thankful to the government and Malaysians for the speedy manner in which the COVID-19 vaccination was made available to them as well.
“Foreigners, including Japanese, have been treated on equal footing to the Malaysians.
“I discover the strength of your society by looking at how you address this COVID-19 challenge. This is very much the interesting discoveries I made as the strength of the Malaysian society”.
On Japanese assistance to battle the pandemic, he said Japan donated one million doses of Made-in-Japan Astra-Zeneca vaccines to Malaysia in July in a quick response to a request from the Malaysian government.
And just earlier this week, Japan further donated RM6 million worth of cold chain equipment such as refrigerators, cold boxes and data loggers to beef up Malaysia’s storage capacity of COVID-19 vaccines.
In addition to this, the full deployment of all equipment provided under the grant assistance totalling RM15 million to Malaysia is expected to be completed soon.
At the ASEAN level, Japan is also initiating an Infectious Diseases Centre in the region to pool the expertise and experiences for a quick and effective response once an infectious disease like COVID-19 is detected through funding worth US$50 million.
Which ASEAN country would host this proposed centre was something for the regional grouping to decide, but Japan hoped such a decision could be made early so that the actual construction of the centre could start.
As a parting shot, Oka said: “ I am very sad to leave Malaysia, having made so many friends in this country. But at the same time, I am looking forward to working for the countries in the region as Japanese diplomat”.