Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan's Keynote Speech at the 15th Japan-Singapore Symposium, 26 January 2022

26 January 2022

Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan delivered a keynote speech virtually at the 15th Japan-Singapore Symposium on 26 January 2022.


Minister Balakrishnan reaffirmed the excellent relations between Singapore and Japan. Both countries have kept up high-level exchanges and robust economic linkages despite the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Minister Balakrishnan stressed that as we move towards a post-pandemic world, Singapore and Japan could explore more opportunities for collaboration, especially in emerging areas such as digitalisation, smart cities and the green economy. Minister Balakrishnan also highlighted ASEAN’s longstanding and close partnership with Japan and looked forward to further cooperation as ASEAN and Japan commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dialogue Relations next year.


The transcript of Minister Balakrishnan’s remarks is appended. 






Your Excellency Minister for Foreign Affairs Hayashi Yoshimasa


Distinguished Guests


Ladies and Gentlemen


1        Good morning. I am delighted to address the 15th Japan-Singapore Symposium (JSS). Since its inception in 1995, the JSS has regularly brought together leading figures and opinion-shapers from Singapore and Japan to exchange views on bilateral, regional and the global issues of the day.


2        Personally, I fondly recall attending the 11th JSS in Tokyo in 2016 where I had the privilege of delivering the keynote speech on the exact day of the 50th Anniversary of Singapore-Japan relations, on the 26th of April. Singapore and Japan enjoy excellent relations, underpinned by frequent high-level exchanges, very strong economic links, and very close people-to-people ties.


3        Last year marked the 55th anniversary of Singapore-Japan diplomatic relations. Despite the onslaught of COVID-19, both our countries have kept up the momentum of high-level engagements, including the phone call between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Prime Minister Kishida Fumio last November, just two months ago. I also had a very good discussion on bilateral relations and regional developments with Foreign Minister Hayashi just last month. The Speaker of our Parliament Mr Tan Chuan-Jin and the Minister of Community, Culture and Youth, (Mr) Edwin Tong visited Tokyo last August for the Olympic and the Paralympic Games, while then-Parliamentary Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Kokuba Konosuke visited Singapore in the same month. We look forward to more of such exchanges to strengthen our bilateral relations.


4        Singapore and Japan have very robust economic linkages. The Japan-Singapore Economic Partnership Agreement is the centrepiece of our economic relations. It is Japan’s first bilateral economic partnership agreement. Since its entry into force in November 2002, the JSEPA has created many opportunities for businesses and enhanced the mutual attractiveness of our markets.


5        Our economic ties today are extensive and wide-ranging, extending from traditional industries like hospitality and logistics, to newer and emerging sectors such as healthcare and precision engineering. Despite disruptions to the global supply chains and trade brought about by COVID-19, Japan has remained one of Singapore’s top trading partners, and Singapore continues to be a popular destination for Japanese investments. As the global economy evolves, we should actively explore even more opportunities for collaboration, especially in the emerging areas of digitalisation, innovation and the green economy, as well as infrastructure cooperation in third countries.


6        A virtual convention like the 15th JSS is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the digital capabilities of our countries. As we navigate an increasingly digitalised world, we can do far more to tap on each other’s expertise to be at the forefront of technological change. Singapore’s Ministry of Communications and Information signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications last July, to expand cooperation in areas ranging from Artificial Intelligence to cybersecurity. Japan’s Digital Garden City Nation initiative and Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative are highly complementary. We should tap on our common interest in creating sustainable smart cities and reinforcing cooperation in green and the digital economy in order to expand both the breadth and depth of our digital collaboration.


7        Our countries have also deepened cooperation on the multilateral front during these times of uncertainty. Our common commitment to maintaining trade and supply chain connectivity has led to the Joint Statement on Facilitating Resilient Economic Activities for Combating the COVID-19 Pandemic. We also joined hands in championing initiatives in support of vaccine multilateralism via the COVAX Facility.


8        Singapore and Japan have rolled out national vaccination drives with much success, providing a strong foundation for a post-pandemic recovery. The endemic nature of the current virus reveals an exigency for closer collaboration to facilitate the safe resumption of travel. Japan and Singapore have always shared strong people-to-people relations. Japan is a very popular tourist destination amongst Singaporeans while Singapore is also popular amongst Japanese travellers. Despite the bump in the road presented by the Omicron variant, Singapore remains committed to re-opening our borders safely. We look forward to working closely with Japan to promote the safe resumption of travel.


9        In the region, Singapore and Japan are natural and like-minded partners. We share a common commitment to upholding an open and rules-based trading system and enhancing regional economic integration. As countries around the world wrestle with growing inward-looking sentiments, the strong trust between our countries has enabled us to work closely together bilaterally and multilaterally for the advancement of free and open trade.


10      Singapore and Japan are members of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, the CPTPP, as well as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or the RCEP. Notably, the successful conclusion of the CPTPP would not have been possible without the astute leadership of Japan. Japan had shown exceptional leadership during its Chairmanship last year, leading the UK’s Accession Working Group. As the Chair of the CPTPP Commission this year, Singapore looks forward to working closely with Japan in bringing the CPTPP to even greater heights.


11      Japan is a longstanding and close partner of ASEAN. As one of ASEAN’s most substantive dialogue partners, Japan has been instrumental in promoting the open, transparent and inclusive regional architecture, as well as supporting ASEAN Centrality. We look forward to practical cooperation in line with the Joint Statement on ASEAN-Japan Cooperation on the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. ASEAN-Japan collaboration has remained very strong amidst COVID-19. 2021 saw the further implementation of the ASEAN-Japan Economic Resilience Action Plan, as well as the deepening of the ASEAN-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership. Singapore also deeply appreciates the assistance Japan has provided to buttress ASEAN’s fight against the COVID-19 virus, including Japan’s commitment of USD 50 million to the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases. As Singapore renews our tenure as Shepherd of the ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN), we would like to thank Japan for your longstanding support for the ASCN. At the Third ASEAN-Japan Smart Cities High Level Meeting in Japan last October, Japan contributed very useful insights on how ASEAN Member States could successfully develop smart cities. We look forward to Japan’s continued support for the ASCN in the years ahead.


12      ASEAN-Japan cooperation is wide-ranging, spanning a range of areas from trade to climate change and security related issues. Japan has been a key player in helping to strengthen the supply chains between Japan and ASEAN as we collectively mitigate the impacts of COVID-19. We should also maintain the momentum of ASEAN-Japan collaboration in areas such as digital solutions and trade facilitation as we work to place Singapore, Japan, and our region on a fast track to comprehensive recovery. As ASEAN and Japan commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dialogue Relations next year, I look forward to strengthening our cooperation to propel our relations to even greater heights.


13      The successful conclusion of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympic Games last August notwithstanding the considerable difficulties brought about by COVID-19 was a potent symbol of hope for a post-pandemic normalcy. While the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics may have drawn to a close, its theme, “Moving Forward” remains ever so relevant as we continue to forge a path of recovery.


14      Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen, the JSS and its long history of open and robust exchanges reflect the well-established and tightly knit relationship between our countries. My Ambassador in Tokyo Peter Tan told me that Foreign Minister Hayashi had previously attended earlier editions of the JSS as a young parliamentarian. Foreign Minister Hayashi’s video message and Chair of the Japan-Singapore Parliamentary Friendship League and former Foreign Minister Kono Taro’s attendance today is testimony of the strong and long links they have with the JSS.


15      I am confident that our discussions over these two days will provide very useful insights and more constructive ideas to further strengthen our cooperation. Thank you all very much.



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