Japan offers Malaysia high-speed rail technology

Japan Thursday offered Malaysia technology to build a multi-million-dollar high-speed railway and other infrastructure, as its Prime Minister Shinzo Abe began a regional tour.

Abe's visit to Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines is the latest of several trips he has made with business leaders since coming to power in December, aimed at drumming up infrastructure deals.

The 58-year-old premier hopes to strengthen ties with Southeast Asian countries, a region enjoying strong economic growth and a potential vibrant marketplace for Japanese products and investment.

"Malaysia and Japan agree to cooperate in high technology with Japan providing the technology in the construction of high-speed rail, water and waste treatment," Abe told reporters at a press conference with his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak.

Singapore and Malaysia announced plans in February to build the rail link, which would cut travel time for the 350 kilometres (220 miles) between the city-state and Kuala Lumpur by more than half to 90 minutes.

The target year for completion is 2020. The idea was mooted in the 1990s but repeatedly shelved, largely due to cost concerns.

Malaysian media reports in 2009 estimated the cost at $2.5 billion-$3.5 billion. No new cost estimate has been publicly given.

The hawkish right-wing prime minister also said Tokyo would strive for "global peace and stability" and foster closer ties with Southeast Asia.

Abe and Najib also pledged cooperation in other areas, such as finance and security in the Malacca Strait, a once-pirate infested waterway separating Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

More than 85 percent of Japan's crude oil from the Middle East travels through the strait. Pirate attacks have decreased markedly in recent years since countries along the waterway stepped up patrols.

This is Abe's second visit to Malaysia after one in 2007.

Japan was Malaysia's largest foreign investor from 1980 to 2012 and is the country's third largest trading partner.

Malaysia has been trying to attract investment to achieve developed nation status by 2020 under a much-touted economic drive.

On Tuesday Japan formally joined negotiations in Malaysia on forming a huge new free trade bloc known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The talks aim to create what would be one of the world's largest free-trade areas, encompassing parts of Asia, Latin America and the US.

Negotiators said in a statement Thursday after the talks ended that that they made "good progress" and would meet again late next month in hopes of agreeing on "more difficult and sensitive issues".

The statement did not elaborate but some countries are eager to protect state interests and sensitive industries, such as Japan with its agricultural sector.