Wednesday 27 April 2016

Singapore, Japan mark 50 years of diplomatic ties on 26 April 2016

PM Lee, Abe pen letters to mark 50 years of ties
Both countries can tap common assets to take friendship to greater heights: Japan PM
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 26 Apr 2016

As Singapore and Japan mark 50 years of diplomatic relations today, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said both countries should tap what they have in common to lift their ties to greater heights.

In an exchange of letters with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to mark the occasion, Mr Abe noted both countries have achieved "miraculous economic growth in such a short period of time".

They also share traits like excellent human resources, high-quality infrastructure and the rule of law.

"Tapping more into these assets, I strongly believe that we can elevate our bilateral relations to a higher level," Mr Abe wrote, adding that he looks forward to celebrating the milestone year with Mr Lee when he visits Japan in September.

Mr Lee, in his letter to Mr Abe, said Singapore has been working closely with Japan to advance their common interests.

Mr Lee added that Japan plays a key role in the peace and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region, and is an important partner in the US-Japan Security Alliance. He wrote: "Singapore hopes that it will continue to play this role actively, to the benefit of itself and the region."

Singapore and Japan established diplomatic relations on April 26, 1966, and copies of the letters to mark the 50th anniversary of ties were released by Singapore's Foreign Affairs Ministry last night. In their letters, both leaders traced the "enormous" growth in ties between their countries in the last 50 years.

Mr Lee cited close bilateral cooperation in diverse areas such as trade and investment, third-country training programmes, healthcare and cultural exchanges.

Particularly significant is the economic relationship, both leaders said, with both Singapore and Japan ranking among each other's top investment destinations.

Mr Abe noted in his letter that Japan was the first country to invest in Singapore after it gained independence in 1965, while Mr Lee wrote that Japanese firms "played a key role in Singapore's development".

Mr Lee said the establishment of the Japan-Singapore Economic Partnership Agreement in 2002 was a "key milestone" in bilateral ties. It was Japan's first-ever free trade pact and Singapore's first with a major trading partner.

The agreement is currently being reviewed by officials of both countries "to make sure it keeps up with the times", Mr Lee noted.

Both countries are also part of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement, which Mr Lee said will "further liberalise Asia-Pacific trade and foster regional economic integration".

On the TPP, Mr Abe added: "As trade-oriented nations, we hope to take the lead in discussions so as to bring about its early entry into force."

Mr Lee said people-to-people ties are getting stronger. Last year, some 800,000 Japanese visitors came to Singapore, and over 300,000 Singaporeans visited Japan.

Another example of their strong friendship was how Singapore made a "modest" contribution to the rebuilding of the Tohoku region that was devastated in an earthquake and tsunami five years ago, Mr Lee said.

Mr Abe said today's close relationship owed much to the "outstanding contributions" of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, and called him "one of the greatest leaders of modern times that Asia has ever produced".

For these efforts, Japan posthumously awarded Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who died in March last year, the prestigious Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers.

'Constructive ties between Japan and neighbours will benefit region'
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 26 Apr 2016

Constructive, peaceful and cooperative ties between Japan and its neighbours will benefit the entire region, Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe and Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan agreed at a meeting yesterday morning.

Both leaders discussed the important role that Japan plays in keeping the peace and stability in Asia, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement last night.

Dr Balakrishnan, who is in Tokyo for a four-day introductory visit that ends tomorrow, affirmed Japan's strong engagement of South- east Asia and the wider region.

He also welcomed Japan's "proactive contribution to peace" security policy and the related laws, which would enable Japan to play a greater strategic role in the region within the framework of the United States-Japan security alliance, the statement said.

Today marks 50 years to the date diplomatic ties were established between Singapore and Japan, and both leaders yesterday reaffirmed the excellent state of bilateral ties, underpinned by regular high-level exchanges, strong economic links and a common strategic outlook.

Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a separate statement that Mr Abe had conveyed his appreciation to Dr Balakrishnan for the sympathy messages sent by Singapore leaders as well as the Republic's offers to extend aid in the wake of the Kyushu earthquakes this month that killed about 50 people.

Yesterday, Dr Balakrishnan also met Japanese Environment Minister Tamayo Marukawa and members of the Japan-Singapore Parliamentary Friendship League, including its chairman Kenji Kosaka and Minister-in-charge of Economic Revitalisation Nobuteru Ishihara.

He also met Mr Sadakazu Tanigaki, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and Mr Natsuo Yamaguchi, chief representative of the LDP's coalition partner Komeito.

He was then hosted by Japanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs Seiji Kihara to a welcome reception for the 11th Japan-Singapore Symposium.

Dr Balakrishnan will deliver a keynote address at the symposium this morning.

He will also meet other Japanese political and business leaders, including his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida, during his trip.

Singapore on Japan: A steadfast partner since our Independence
Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan's congratulatory message on the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Japan.
The Straits Times, 26 Apr 2016

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the excellent bilateral relations between Singapore and Japan. This is a significant milestone. Japan has been a steadfast partner of Singapore since our Independence in August 1965. Japanese companies were among the first to recognise Singapore's potential in the initial years. They were a critical source of foreign direct investments, management expertise and technical skills at a time when Singapore was just embarking on industrialisation.

Since then, our bilateral ties have deepened, based on mutual trust, alignment of interests and effective cooperation. Our leaders enjoy regular exchanges, and our economic and people-to-people ties are growing from strength to strength.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have met several times a year over the last few years. Around 37,000 Japanese live in Singapore. They have endeared themselves to Singaporeans. The outpouring of support by Singaporeans for the victims affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011 speaks volumes of this deep friendship and kizuna between our peoples.

Today, Japan is one of Singapore's most important economic partners. A key piece of our economic relations is the Japan-Singapore Economic Partnership Agreement or JSEPA, which was Japan's first ever Free Trade Agreement and Singapore's first with a major trading partner. The JSEPA, which entered into force in November 2002, has played an important role in catalysing bilateral trade and investment flows. The world has witnessed many changes since 2002.

To ensure its continued relevance, a review of the JSEPA is necessary for the mutual benefit of our two economies and people of our two countries. We should also take this opportunity to expand our air connectivity, which will further buttress our economic and people-to-people exchanges. Beyond our strong bilateral partnership, our two countries also share many common interests in regional issues and work closely through the Asean-Japan framework.

As we mark and celebrate this milestone in our relations, it is important for us to look ahead and bring our relations to the next level. I look forward to ushering in an era of closer friendship and enhanced cooperation with our Japanese friends for the next 50 years and more.

Japan on Singapore: Friendly and cooperative ties still growing
Japan's Foreign Affairs Minister Fumio Kishida's congratulatory message on the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Singapore-Japan diplomatic relations.
The Straits Times, 26 Apr 2016

Today, I am pleased to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Japan-Singapore diplomatic relations. First of all, I would also like to express our heartfelt gratitude for the kind words extended to us from the Government and the people of Singapore in response to the recent earthquakes in Kumamoto.

Exactly 50 years ago today, on April 26, 1966, Japan and Singapore established diplomatic relations. I am very pleased to note that, since then, for half a century, friendly and cooperative ties between our two nations have grown and matured from strength to strength.

Singapore is the first country with which Japan concluded a bilateral economic partnership agreement and over 1,100 Japanese companies currently operate in Singapore, many of which locate their regional headquarters. The Japan-Singapore Symposium, now in its 11th meeting, as well as the Japan Creative Centre opened in 2009 in the heart of Singapore, illustrate the flourishing of our people-to-people and cultural exchanges that have been developed over the years. Moreover, Singapore and Japan, as important partners sharing fundamental values, have been working closely together not only to assist other countries' development, including through Japan-Singapore Partnership Programme for the 21st Century, but also to address regional and global challenges. Generous support from Singaporean people in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake that struck Japan five years ago reminded us anew of the deep bonds between our nations.

Commemorating the 50th anniversary of Japan-Singapore diplomatic relations, an SJ50 logo has been chosen through public competition. With symbols that best represent each nation - Mount Fuji and the Merlion, the logo expresses a sign of an even greater leap forward.

I am confident that commemorative events that will be held with this logo throughout this year will further deepen the ties between our two peoples.

Looking ahead to the next half-century and beyond, I sincerely hope that this commemorative year will bring Japan-Singapore relations to even greater heights.

Singapore, Japan can team up to tackle social issues: Vivian Balakrishnan
Ageing population and low birth rate are problems both nations face: Vivian
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 27 Apr 2016

As Singapore and Japan face similar challenges like ageing populations and low birth rates, the two nations should work together to find solutions to these issues, said Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in Tokyo yesterday.

This could be done through cooperation in medical research, artificial intelligence and robotics, and ageing and healthcare technology, he said at the 11th Japan-Singapore Symposium (JSS).

Japan is "already quite advanced" in these areas, and Singapore can benefit from its expertise, said Dr Balakrishnan, who is also Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative.

"We are looking carefully at Japanese technology in the area of human-machine interaction and humanising it so that it solves real human challenges for the future."

This is but one area Singapore and Japan could collaborate on, Dr Balakrishnan and Japanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs Seiji Kihara said yesterday.

The biennial JSS will be a yearly event from now on, they added, to further strengthen bilateral and regional cooperation.

Yesterday marked 50 years to the day bilateral ties were established on April 26, 1966. The two ministers took the occasion to trace the progress of bilateral ties over the decades, and to identify areas for even closer cooperation.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "What binds Japan and Singapore is our ability to look forward, to continuously evolve and strengthen our relationship, not only on the bilateral front but also towards the common pursuit of peace, stability and prosperity for our region."

Both countries share a common strategic outlook, he said, calling on Japan and regional countries to "work together with Asean to advance regional peace, stability and prosperity, and uphold and protect a rules-based regional and international order".

Dr Balakrishnan also stressed that Singapore does not take sides on competing territorial claims, saying that recent developments in the South China Sea have raised concerns and sometimes, tension.

Mr Kihara, who spoke about the two countries' role in promoting maritime security, yesterday suggested they address regional issues "more actively" through Asean and the East Asia Summit. He said it was "regrettable" that the rule of law at sea has been "compromised", given the situation in the South China Sea.

Dr Balakrishnan noted both Japan and Singapore support the United States' continued presence in the region. Hence, Singapore was one of the earliest supporters of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's "Proactive Contribution to Peace" security policy.

He said that Singapore also welcomes recent reconciliatory efforts in North-east Asia such as the comfort women deal between Japan and South Korea, and the resumption of summit meetings between Mr Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Meanwhile, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact could also form the basis for further discussions on the landmark Japan-Singapore Economic Partnership Agreement, which is under review, Dr Balakrishnan said.

Mr Kihara said: "As members of the TPP, Japan and Singapore can be centrepieces and expand its merits in the region and the world."

To mark 50 years of ties, Mr Kihara said a Japanese food and cultural event will be held at Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza in October. Dr Balakrishnan said that some supermarket chains in Japan have also started a campaign to promote Singapore culture through food like chicken rice and char kway teow.

Dr Balakrishnan, who returns to Singapore today, was hosted to dinner by Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida last night.

Japan, Singapore and 50 years of post-war friendship
By Tommy Koh, Published The Straits Times, 26 Apr 2016

On April 26, 1966, newly independent Singapore established diplomatic relations with Japan. Today is therefore the 50th anniversary of that happy occasion. We have many reasons to celebrate the anniversary because, over the past 50 years, our relations have blossomed economically, politically, culturally and between our two peoples.

The first issue I wish to discuss is how the two countries succeeded in forging such a strong relationship in spite of the unhappy memories of the 3½ years when Singapore was occupied and ruled by Japan. After World War II, the public sentiment in Singapore was understandably not friendly to Japan.

It was decided in 1963 to build a Civilian War Memorial in Beach Road to honour the memories of the civilians killed during World War II. The memorial looks like four chopsticks. Every year on Feb 15, which is the day on which the British had surrendered to the Japanese, an observance ceremony would be held at the memorial. Speaking at the unveiling of the memorial in 1967, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said: "We meet not to rekindle old fires of hatred nor to seek settlements for blood debts. We meet to remember the men and women who are the hapless victims of one of the fires of history. We suffered together. It told us that we shared one destiny."

The Singapore Government's attitude was to remember the past but not to be imprisoned by it. Instead, it sought to forge a new and positive relationship with post-war Japan. Japan helped Singapore's economic development and industrialisation in many ways. For example, it established the Japan Singapore Training Centre and the Computer Training Centre, to train our workers.

The Japanese private sector also played a major role in the early years of Singapore's economic development. Seiko opened a factory in 1976 to make watches, precision instruments, industrial robotics and automation systems. Sumitomo Chemical Corporation established Singapore's first petrochemical project. The Japan Productivity Centre helped Singapore to start its own National Productivity Council and Productivity Movement.

The situation today is that Japan is Singapore's second-largest foreign investor. In 2014, Japan's cumulative investments in Singapore amounted to US$80 billion (S$108 billion). Readers will be surprised to read that, in return, Singapore has become Japan's second-largest foreign investor with cumulative investments of US$18 billion.

Another milestone in our relationship was the conclusion, in 2002, of the Japan-Singapore Economic Partnership Agreement (JSEPA). Singapore was the first Asian country with which Japan concluded a free trade agreement. Japan is Singapore's eighth-largest trading partner with bilateral trade amounting to US$35 billion. The two countries are currently undertaking the third review of JSEPA. This is necessary and desirable because of structural changes taking place in the two economies and in order to reflect the agreements contained in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Japan and Singapore are two of the 12 countries which concluded the TPP.

Politically, Japan and Singapore enjoy excellent relations. There are frequent contacts and exchanges between our political leaders. They enjoy a high comfort level based on goodwill and mutual trust. The two countries also share a common world view and strategic vision. They want an Asia-Pacific which is peaceful and prosperous. They want to uphold a regional and global order which is based on the rule of law. They believe that when disputes arise, they should be settled peacefully, through negotiations if possible, and if not, through international diplomatic and legal processes. As island nations and trading nations, both Japan and Singapore attach great importance to the freedom of navigation and overflight.

Finally, they both believe that the continued presence of the United States is essential to the peace and stability of the region. The close political relationship between Japan and Singapore is therefore based upon these commonalities.

I am happy to report that the cultural pillar and the people pillar are as strong as the economic and political pillars.

Japan has a very attractive soft power. We see Japan as a peaceful and beautiful country. It is immaculately clean and the environment is kept in a pristine condition. Japan has a long and rich history and its heritage in arts and crafts has been carefully preserved. Japanese design, fashion and architecture are much admired in Singapore. Various aspects of Japanese popular culture, such as its cuisine, ikebana, judo, manga, anime and J-pop, have been embraced by many Singaporeans. The Japan Creative Centre is doing a very good job in projecting Japan's soft power in Singapore.

The people pillar is also very strong. The people of Japan and Singapore like and admire each other. Last year, 800,000 Japanese visited Singapore and 300,000 Singaporeans visited Japan. Singaporeans admire the Japanese who are cultured and civic-minded. Singaporeans admire the Japanese for their discipline, resilience and courage in adversity. These qualities of the Japanese people were manifested in the aftermath of the Kobe earthquake and the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. There were no scenes of looting. Instead, the Japanese people behaved with quiet stoicism, discipline and consideration for one another.

The positive attitude of the people of Singapore towards Japan and the Japanese was amply displayed in 2011, following the triple disasters.

Singaporeans of all races and ages spontaneously raised money to help the victims in Japan. Over $35 million was raised in a ground-up, people-driven campaign to help Japan. I think my friends in the Japanese Embassy were taken by surprise by the warmth and goodwill shown by the people of Singapore.

On the happy occasion of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Singapore, we can truly say that the relationship between the two countries is trouble-free. We enjoy excellent relations politically, economically, culturally and between our two peoples. Let us work together to raise our relationship to an even higher peak.

The writer is Ambassador-at-Large at Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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