Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida agreed Saturday with his Malaysian counterpart Anwar Ibrahim to supply rescue boats to the Southeast Asian nation's military, with China's growing maritime assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific in focus.

The provision would be carried out under Tokyo's new framework for like-minded countries that share fundamental values, called official security assistance or OSA. Malaysia is the third nation, after the Philippines and Bangladesh, to engage with Japan on the program, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

Kishida and Anwar reached the agreement during talks in Tokyo on the sidelines of three-day events related to a special summit starting Saturday between Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to commemorate 50 years of friendship and cooperation.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (2nd from R) holds talks with Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim (3rd from L) in Tokyo on Dec. 16, 2023. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

The latest assistance offered to Malaysia by Japan, which has a war-renouncing Constitution that prohibits the maintenance of military forces, is worth 400 million yen ($2.8 million). Tokyo will also offer surveillance drones to Kuala Lumpur, the ministry said.

At the meeting, Kishida expressed hope that bilateral cooperation can be strengthened "to uphold the free and open international order based on the rule of law," while Anwar said Japan's roles in securing stability in Asia are "pivotal" and "strategic" for Malaysia.

With China apparently in mind, Tokyo launched the security assistance program in April and designated four countries, including Fiji, as recipients. It allocated 2 billion yen in the budget for the current fiscal year through March 2024.

On Saturday, Kishida also agreed with Indonesian President Joko Widodo that Japan will provide a large patrol ship for the Southeast Asian nation's coast guard and support the development of its planned new capital Nusantara in eastern Borneo, the ministry said.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (R) shakes hands with Indonesian President Joko Widodo prior to their talks in Tokyo on Dec. 16, 2023. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Kishida and Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, meanwhile, pledged to further expand interactions among their defense personnel and promote collaboration on future military equipment transfer, it added.

Kishida also held meetings with his counterparts from Brunei, Laos and Singapore as well as East Timor, which ASEAN has agreed in principle to admit as its 11th member.

Japan regards its relations with ASEAN as strategically important, with the bloc facing the South China Sea, home to one of the world's busiest maritime sea lanes. Some of the 10 ASEAN members have overlapping territorial claims with China there.

For two days through Monday, Kishida is set to hold bilateral talks with leaders from Thailand, the Philippines and Cambodia. Myanmar, under military rule since a February 2021 coup, was not invited to the summit in Tokyo.

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