Friday, 30 September 2016

PM Lee Hsien Loong's official visit to Japan, 26 to 29 September 2016

Singapore's approach to an issue is never to play sides: PM Lee
It has consistent foreign policy stand, wants to be friends with all friendly nations, he says
By Walter Sim, Japan Correspondent In Tokyo, The Straits Times, 30 Sep 2016

Singapore must never be seen to be "playing multiple sides" on an issue, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday, as he outlined the principled foreign policy position the Republic has always taken.

Singapore's foreign policy approach is to be friends with all countries who want to befriend Singapore, he told reporters at the end of a four-day official visit to Japan.

So, "you cannot have different messages for different people because you will soon run into very serious trouble". He added: "We must have a stand, our own position, and we stick to that position whomever we are talking to, whichever country or capital we are in. When we make a speech, the gist has to be the same."

Ties among Singapore's friends might be complicated from time to time, as evident in recent issues such as the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

But in such situations, he said, "we will have to decide where we are going to stand, and how we can try our best to preserve our friendship with both sides of the issue".

On ASEAN's part, it wants an open region and welcomes countries, including China and Japan, to invest and work with the 10-nation bloc.

"We don't see a conflict. The ASEAN countries will have to work out where they stand and whose interests they take," he said.

Earlier yesterday, PM Lee made a wide-ranging speech on shifting regional dynamics at a special session of the Nikkei conference.

Singapore, which is the dialogue coordinator for ASEAN-China relations, has been consistent in what it stands for, he said at the session.

"But in this role, it is not possible for us to command ASEAN and corral everybody into one position, nor are we in the position to negotiate with China on behalf of ASEAN.

"What is possible for us to do, is to be an honest broker, to deal straight with all parties, and try to bring about a consensus where possible."

But even when countries disagree, it does not mean they do not work together at all, he added.

"No single issue defines the whole relationship with another country," he added, noting the multi-faceted nature of diplomatic ties, which range from trade to tourism.

"You have to try and contain the issues where there may be difficulties, and not let it sour the whole gamut of ties," he said, adding that ASEAN, too, does not want the South China Sea dispute to "poison the overall relationship" with China.

Even so, small nations like Singapore must follow principles like international norms as otherwise, "it's just the law of the jungle and the powerful do what they will".

Still, Singapore also recognises the reality that "big powers don't always abide by this", he said.

PM Lee also noted that Sino-Japan ties are "simultaneously competitive and cooperative". He welcomed the meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Hangzhou this month, saying: "Direct communication is the first step towards mutual understanding and resolution of differences."

He also said that the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership pact which involves the United States, Japan and Singapore, should not be seen as a move to exclude China.

"It's a scheme to promote free trade in the whole Asia Pacific. That includes China and so we must leave the door open," he added. "And if it can happen it is a plus for China and the other parties."

Special Session of the Nikkei International Conference on the Future of Asia

Countries in region must step up cooperation: PM
All sides have vested interest in reaching a new, workable balance, and Japan has an important role to play, he says
By Walter Sim, Japan Correspondent In Tokyo, The Straits Times, 30 Sep 2016

The Asia-Pacific region is entering a period of major geopolitical shifts and difficult internal conditions, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

"Countries can only succeed in this challenging environment by strengthening our cooperation, and not by turning inwards," he told more than 500 readers of the Nikkei newspaper at a special session of the publication's annual conference in Tokyo.

It was the last key event on his four-day visit to mark 50 years of diplomatic ties between Singapore and Japan. More than 2,000 people had applied to attend the one-hour session at the Imperial Hotel.

Mr Lee noted that in many places, "protectionist, anti-immigrant, anti- globalisation sentiments are prevalent". Asia is "not doing badly", but also has its own issues, he added at the start of a speech focused on shifting regional dynamics.

China's rise is a huge plus for the world, he stressed, given its interdependence with other countries. But its increasing influence means countries need to "make major adjustments", and that requires "restraint and wisdom from all sides".

As China takes on new responsibilities, it should also "be mindful of the natural unease and apprehension that its rapid rise elicits in its neighbours and other powers".

Mr Lee said: "It should act in such a way as to demonstrate that it is committed to building win-win relationships with other countries, and that while it seeks to revise existing frameworks and rules, it is not about to overturn the established international order which it has itself benefited from."

And smaller countries like Singapore will have to "take the policies and interests of an emerging major player more into our calculations", though there are also benefits in the new opportunities for trade and economic cooperation with China.

Meanwhile, major powers should "accommodate the legitimate interests of a growing China" as it strives for even more influence at institutions such as the United Nations and World Bank.

"We have to expect frictions and disputes from time to time, especially between neighbours, because each country has its own national interests," Mr Lee said.

"It is thus not surprising that China is involved in territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea and the East China Sea.

"But all sides have a vested interest in reaching a new and workable balance, and in minimising conflict. For if countries fail to work together, we are not just losing opportunities to prosper together, but are also putting at serious risk all that we have achieved so far."

In this context, Japan, which for decades has been promoting peace, stability and development in the region, has an important role to play, Mr Lee said.

But it needs to "evolve" by taking "bolder moves" to reinvigorate its economy, he said, noting the structural reforms under way to bring in more overseas workers and to urge more women to enter the workforce. It also needs to continue looking outwards by making "a greater effort to expose its people to the world, especially the young".

He noted that Ivy League schools in the United States used to take in more Japanese students, but their numbers have since been surpassed by the South Koreans and Chinese.

Japan also needs to ensure stable and peaceful relations with its neighbours and big powers China and the US, Mr Lee said.

China and Japan should work together to manage disputes and pursue opportunities, and the US-Japan Security Alliance "anchors the US in the region, and restrains countries in North-east Asia from escalating their disputes", he added.

Mr Lee also said he hopes Japan will continue to play an "active and constructive role" in Asia, especially South-east Asia, through economic agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and forums like the East Asia Summit.

Referring to Japan as a "key player" that influences the tone for the region, Mr Lee said: "I hope you will continue to play this constructive role and keep on promoting regional peace, stability and development for many years to come."

Singapore's next PM to be decided among younger members of Cabinet: PM Lee
By Walter Sim,  Japan Correspondent In Tokyo and Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 30 Sep 2016

It is for the younger members of the Cabinet to decide among themselves who the next prime minister will be, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

"They have to decide because they have to support him, and help to make the system, make the team work," he said at a special session of the 22nd Nikkei International Conference on The Future of Asia in Tokyo.

Mr Lee was responding to a question on Singapore's leadership succession from moderator Sonoko Watanabe, editor-in-chief of business publication Nikkei Asian Review. His remarks came a day after Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, 59, categorically ruled himself out of the running to succeed Mr Lee, 64, who has been Prime Minister since 2004.

The question of Singapore's political leadership succession took on added significance after Mr Lee took ill during his National Day Rally speech last month. He returned after an hour to speak, and has been given a clean bill of health.

Mr Lee himself has repeatedly said that he plans to step down some time after the next general election, which must be held by April 2021.

At the forum yesterday, he said Singapore wants its leaders to be "able people, good people, committed people - people who can connect with the population, who can lead Singapore, who are prepared to fight for what they believe in and fight for what they can do together".

Based on these qualities, he has assembled "to the best of my ability" a team in the Cabinet, he said.

As for who will eventually assume his mantle, PM Lee said: "I've said (before that) very likely the next PM will come from amongst the younger members of my Cabinet. Who, (that) is up to them to work out among themselves and I hope in good time - I'm sure in good time - a consensus will develop among them as to who the next leader will be."

Mr Tharman had told reporters on Wednesday that the next prime minister would come from the fourth-generation leaders, one of whom would emerge as "first amongst equals during the next term of government".

But he said there was no urgency to see succession take place in this term of government as PM Lee is healthy, and "on top of the challenges that Singapore faces".

Still, observers noted yesterday that no clear successor had yet been identified, unlike in the two previous leadership transitions.

Mr Goh Chok Tong was deputy prime minister for five years before taking on the top job, while Mr Lee held the deputy post for 14 years.

"We are definitely behind schedule," said former People's Action Party MP Inderjit Singh. "Today, Singaporeans have not yet seen a clear leader emerging and this worries many," he added.

Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad also said residents are concerned, and ask him "all the time" who the next prime minister will be. "My guess is that it's a case of two to three potential leaders, and PM is still giving everyone chances to show what he or she can achieve," he said.

Observers have tipped Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and labour chief Chan Chun Sing as being among those with the potential to become the next prime minister.

As for the timing of Mr Tharman's remarks, Singapore Management University law don and former Nominated MP Eugene Tan believes it is to "manage public expectations and ensure that the focus is on the fourth-generation leadership rather than him".

He added: "It's a prudent measure to not let the public lack clarity as to the leadership succession plans."

Singapore welcomes a more active Japan in region: PM Lee
TPP, Shinkansen, and South China Sea discussed at meeting with Abe
By Walter Sim Japan Correspondent In Tokyo, The Straits Times, 29 Sep 2016

Singapore welcomes Japan playing a more active role in the region, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday, as he discussed security and economic issues with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe.

With protectionist sentiments on the rise globally, PM Lee said the ratification of the "strategically important" Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is crucial for both countries.

Speaking to media alongside Mr Abe after a bilateral summit, PM Lee said: "Japan's ratification is very important because Japan is the second-largest economy in the TPP and the third-largest economy in the world."

Mr Abe said both countries agreed to "cooperate for the early entry into force" of the pact, which 12 Pacific nations have signed. It is now being debated in Japan's Diet and PM Lee said he was encouraged by Mr Abe's confidence of getting support for its ratification.

PM Lee was also hopeful that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) would "make good progress", and that the bilateral Japan-Singapore Economic Partnership Agreement could be reviewed and brought "up to date".

He added: "Singapore supports the Abe administration's 'Proactive Contribution to Peace' policy and the peace and security legislation under the framework of the United States-Japan Security Alliance."

The bilateral meeting was the leaders' ninth since 2013.

After the meeting, PM Lee received, on behalf of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, Japan's highest honour for a foreign dignitary.

Japan posthumously awarded the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers to the late Mr Lee for helping to forge bilateral ties over several decades.

PM Lee is in Tokyo on a four-day visit to mark 50 years of bilateral relations. And Mr Abe said their meeting produced "notable outcomes (that) elevate our cooperative relations to new heights". He also announced that Japan will welcome President Tony Tan Keng Yam on a state visit in late November.

Both leaders also agreed to form a vice-ministerial level committee to discuss cooperation in land, sea and air transport and infrastructure. Mr Abe hoped this would include introducing Japan's Shinkansen technology for the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur high-speed rail project. PM Lee said he told Mr Abe it was "absolutely Singapore's wish to have the best technology for the high-speed rail".

PM Lee said Singapore is "working with Malaysia to ensure a rigorous, objective and high-standard process for tender in order to get the best possible train set".

"The Shinkansen's long record of safety, reliability and excellence would stand it in good stead in the bid," he added.

Both leaders also discussed LNG bunkering and air services. PM Lee said the 2020 Tokyo Olympics made it timely to increase flight capacity "not only between Singapore and Japan but also beyond".

On North Korea, PM Lee said Singapore was deeply concerned by recent provocations and hoped Pyongyang "will return to the path of dialogue sooner rather than later".

On the South China Sea, he said Singapore is a non-claimant state and does not take sides on the competing territorial claims. But it has key interests to protect, that include freedom of navigation and overflight, and a rules-based regional and international order.

This order, he said, "upholds and protects the rights and privileges of all states, and shows full respect for legal and diplomatic processes in the resolution of disputes."

He also urged Japan to further deepen ties with ASEAN.

PM Lee will speak at a conference on the future of Asia today before leaving for home.

Top Japanese honour for Lee Kuan Yew
By Walter Sim, Japan Correspondent In Tokyo, The Straits Times, 29 Sep 2016

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday said Singapore's founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was "one of the greatest minds that Asia has brought to the world in our time".

"I would like to pay my utmost tribute to the extremely important role that he played for more than half a century for the peace and prosperity for the Asia-Pacific region and of the entire world," he added.

Mr Abe was speaking at a ceremony to posthumously confer Japan's highest honour for a foreign dignitary on the late Mr Lee, who died in March last year.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is in Tokyo for a four-day official visit, received the prestigious Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers on behalf of the late Mr Lee.

PM Lee yesterday thanked Mr Abe for "making a special effort" to attend the state funeral last year.

He said: "From the first days of our independence, Mr Lee adopted a forward-looking and constructive approach to bilateral relations."

Mr Lee was also "a great admirer of Japan's work ethic, discipline and productivity", he added.

At a dinner banquet hosted by Mr Abe last night, PM Lee noted that it was because of Mr Lee that relations between Singapore and Japan have progressed steadily. The two countries now enjoy substantial economic ties and intimate people-to-people relations.

Japan is one of the most popular travel destinations for Singaporeans, and the Japan Creative Centre in Singapore has also deepened the appreciation for Japanese culture, PM Lee said, as he offered a toast.

"I think the latest manifestation of Japanese soft power is Pokemon Go. It's even becoming almost as popular as Super Mario," he said to laughter from the guests, many of them Japanese leaders active in forging economic, political and cultural ties with Singapore. PM Lee was alluding to Mr Abe's appearance as the Nintendo game character at the Rio Olympics closing ceremony.

Mr Abe, too, observed that Singapore has lapped up Japanese pop culture. He noted that a Hello Kitty cafe opened at Changi Airport in May, and said: "Now, every time when people visit Singapore, the latest trend is to first be greeted by Hello Kitty - before they even have the chance to meet the Merlion!"

Singapore, Japan ink 3 pacts in trade, infrastructure and tech
Both prime ministers witness exchange of documents; PM Lee hosts lunch for 8 Japanese business leaders
By Walter Sim, Japan Correspondent In Tokyo, The Straits Times, 29 Sep 2016

Three agreements - in trade, infrastructure and technology - were inked between Singapore and Japan yesterday at a conference to mark 50 years of bilateral ties.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is in Tokyo for a four-day official visit, witnessed the exchange of the documents with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after a bilateral summit yesterday.

The pacts were signed at a business symposium organised by The Straits Times, Japan media group Nikkei Business Publications, Japan External Trade Organisation (Jetro) and IE Singapore in Tokyo.

The trade agreement, between IE Singapore and its Japanese counterpart Jetro, promises to boost connectivity between both countries.

This will be done through, among others, company visits and joint projects in "third-country markets" in South-east Asia and South Asia.

IE Singapore, too, has been helping home-grown companies expand into Japan. Last Thursday, barbecued pork retailer Bee Cheng Hiang opened its first Japan store in Tokyo's chic Ginza district, and Salad Stop will make its Japanese debut later this year in Tokyo, said IE Singapore chief executive officer Lee Ark Boon at the symposium.

Also, from Saturday, budget airline Scoot will fly between Hokkaido and Singapore, via Taipei.

The infrastructure pact was inked by Singapore urban and infrastructure development consultancy Surbana Jurong, and the Japan Overseas Infrastructure Investment Corporation for Transport and Urban Development (Join).

They will strengthen their collaboration on potential projects such as railways and transport systems, in territories such as Singapore, South-east Asia, India, the Middle East and Africa.

Under the third agreement, between Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Tokyo Institute of Technology, both tertiary institutions will enter into a research collaboration agreement.

They will also work together in joint research and technology developments in areas such as environmental engineering, nuclear safety and engineering, robotics and technology-enhanced learning.

PM Lee hosted eight Japanese business leaders to lunch yesterday. During the 1½-hour session, they discussed potential areas of closer cooperation between Singapore and Japan companies.

PM Lee told the business leaders of Singapore's will to work together with Japan as it transforms its economy, upgrades its workforce and moves towards new technologies including robotics and fintech.

Chugai Pharmaceutical chairman Osamu Nagayama, who was at the lunch, said both sides could work together to better cope with common issues such as a greying population.

"There is a lot we can collaborate with Singapore, particularly in modern medicine that requires a lot of knowledge in molecular biology, linking to artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things," he said.

The entire life sciences industry has been "busily discussing disruptive technologies", he added, having heard how Singapore's Smart Nation drive offers many opportunities to be explored with its firms.

Emperor Akihito hosts PM Lee Hsien Loong to lunch
Rare occasion at Imperial Palace a mark of robust ties between two nations
By Walter Sim, Japan Correspondent In Tokyo, The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2016

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Mrs Lee were hosted to a private lunch by Japan's royal couple at their home in the Imperial Palace yesterday, a rare occasion that signifies the robust ties between Singapore and Japan.

They met Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko for about two hours - half an hour longer than the scheduled time.

The royal couple last formally hosted PM Lee to tea in March 2007. PM Lee also had an audience with the Emperor in 2013.

And their ties with Singapore run deep. The royal couple sent flowers when founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew died last year - the first time they had done so for a foreign prime minister.

The late Mr Lee will today be posthumously recognised with Japan's highest honour - the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers - for his contributions to decades of building bilateral relations.

PM Lee is in Tokyo for a four-day official visit that started on Monday, to mark 50 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

He met about 400 Singaporeans living in Japan last night at a belated National Day reception.

There, he took wefies and chatted with Singaporeans, who had hearty local fare such as chicken rice, laksa and bak kut teh on the menu, as National Day songs played in the background.

"Japan is an important friend of Singapore," PM Lee said in brief remarks which underlined the close economic and people-to-people ties between the two countries.

He added, to laughter, that Singapore "must have one of the largest number of Japanese restaurants per person in the world".

He also urged Singaporeans in Japan to take home "some of the good values and habits and customs of the Japanese".

"They're very disciplined, they queue up very neatly, they don't litter the streets, they work very hard, and they work together cohesively as one people. These are the values we need as Singaporeans," he said.

Among those at the reception was lawyer Nithia Dory, 35, who has been in Tokyo for two years.

She said that her Japanese colleagues regarded Singapore with respect: "Whenever I tell someone I'm from Singapore, they are always very proud of the fact that we have very good diplomatic ties."

Mr Benjamin Tan, a quantitative analyst who has been in Japan for 6½ years, said he holds the empathy exhibited by the Japanese in high regard. Describing it as a "form of mutual respect", he said he has since come to embrace it.

Also at the event were newcomers like Ms Olivia Dong, 28, who manages the Japan market for Singapore concierge and delivery firm Honestbee, which recently launched in Tokyo.

"Japan has been very open to welcoming us here," she said. "We're a tech firm and it's a bit newer, but they're still very receptive."

Last night's event reminded Mr Dexter Sim, 28, of home. The recruitment consultant, who has been in Tokyo for three months, said: "Being in an environment where everyone spoke Singlish freely, and seeing how many people 'chionged' (rushed) to take selfies with PM Lee... was really heartening and it really felt like home."

Earlier, Singapore politicians including Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin met younger legislators from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party for lunch.

Mr Tan said in a Facebook post that their discussions included "labour reforms, possible new economic collaborations, role of technology in our economic and also social transformations, air services, security concerns".

PM Lee also met senior representatives of the Japan-Singapore Parliamentary Friendship League - a bilateral effort to foster close ties among parliamentarians - for tea.

He presented a plaque to the league's former chairman Kenji Kosaka for his contributions to bilateral relations.

No comments:

Post a Comment