1 A very good morning to all of you. Thank you for inviting me to the 16th Japan-Singapore Symposium (JSS). I am happy to be here today to address this distinguished gathering, and please allow me to extend a warm welcome in Japanese to our guests from Japan – シンガポールへようこそ。何年も前に日本語を勉強いたしましたが
2 It has been four years since the JSS was last convened in-person. Even though the JSS continued to take place virtually in the last two years, I believe that we can all agree that face-to-face interactions are irreplaceable. Over the past 28 years, the JSS has served as a useful platform for candid and robust discussions on not just Singapore-Japan relations, but also regional and global issues. I am certain that the discussions today will help deepen mutual understanding between our two countries, provide ideas on how to further strengthen our bilateral cooperation, and explore ways that Singapore and Japan can contribute regionally and globally.
3 Since the establishment of formal diplomatic relations in 1966, Singapore and Japan have enjoyed excellent bilateral relations. At the political-level, the frequent exchanges between our leadership has been crucial in fostering trust and charting the direction of the relationship. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong visited Japan twice last year, and we welcomed Prime Minister Kishida Fumio’s first Official Visit to Singapore in June when he also spoke at the Shangri-la Dialogue. There have also been numerous visits and exchanges between our Ministers and Senior Officials. We look forward to more of such exchanges, which provide good opportunities for us to better understand the latest developments in each other’s country and explore areas for further cooperation.
4 Our economic linkages are robust. Underpinning this is the Japan-Singapore Economic Partnership Agreement, or JSEPA, which was Japan’s first bilateral economic partnership agreement and Singapore’s first with a major trading partner. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, our economic relations have continued to grow. Our total merchandise trade volume grew 21.5% year-on-year to S$65.5 billion in 2022. In 2021, Singapore was Japan’s largest investment destination in Asia, and Singapore was also Japan’s top Asian investor. We are also significant markets for each other’s businesses. There are more than 5,200 registered Japanese companies in Singapore and there is strong interest from Japanese companies to use Singapore as a base for further expansion in the region. A number of Singaporean companies have also established their presence in Japan. For example, co-working space provider JustCo operates four workspaces in Tokyo, and its newest location opened in Chiyoda-ku just last month.
5 Beyond economic cooperation, the friendship between Singapore and Japan has also deepened through frequent cultural exchanges. Many Singaporeans are avid fans of Japanese popular culture, including anime and manga. Notably, the National Museum of Singapore hosted the first global showcase of The Doraemon Exhibition outside of Japan recently. Last month, our National Library Board also launched its first fully self-service library featuring a collection of more than 5,000 manga. I myself studied Japanese for five years when I was in secondary school and junior college, and one of my motivations for doing so was to better appreciate Japanese popular culture. Over the years, the Japan Creative Centre (JCC) has done a good job in promoting Japanese culture to Singaporeans as well as visitors to Singapore. I hope that the JCC keeps up its good work for many years to come.
6 Our people-to-people exchanges have been growing steadily. Singapore and Japan are each other’s key business and leisure destinations. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, almost half a million Singaporeans visited Japan annually, which is remarkable considering our small population. Overall passenger movements reached a historic high of 3.4 million, with over 200 weekly passenger services between our countries. You can therefore imagine the cheers when Japan announced the reopening of its borders in October 2022. In November and December 2022 alone, almost 110,000 Singaporeans visited Japan. Passenger traffic between Japan and Singapore has so far recovered to about 60% of pre-COVID levels and as international travel returns, I am confident that our people-to-people linkages will only grow.
7 However, there is still room to do more. I would like to take this opportunity to offer three suggestions. First, I had earlier mentioned the JSEPA. Since its entry into force in November 2002, the JSEPA has created many opportunities for businesses and enhanced the mutual attractiveness of our markets. However, the JSEPA was last updated 16 years ago, and it is timely to review and strengthen the JSEPA to ensure that it keeps pace with the changing interests of our business community and serves as a pathfinder for emerging areas of mutual interest such as the digital economy. Given that our countries are both parties to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), we should aim to bring the JSEPA up to the standards of the CPTPP or if possible, even further.
8 Second, is digitalisation. We should build upon the two Memoranda of Cooperation, or MOC, covering areas like Artificial Intelligence, cybersecurity and digital government transformation as well as the Joint Statement on the Further Promotion of Cooperation in the Field of Information and Communications Technology to jointly explore and develop tangible projects. The first meeting to explore synergies between Japan’s Digital Garden City Nation Initiative and Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative, which took place in December 2022, is a good step in this regard. We look forward to working with Japan to further catalyse the digital transformation of our economies and bring tangible benefit to our peoples.
9 Third, we can cooperate on sustainability and energy issues to advance our transition to low-carbon economies. Last year, our countries signed two MOCs on Low Emissions Solutions and LNG Cooperation and Energy Transitions. The private sector has also stepped-up collaborations. For example, SembCorp Industries signed MOUs with JBIC, IHI Corporation and Sojitz Corporation to collaborate on renewable energy projects. Singapore also supports Japan’s Asia Zero Emissions Community (AZEC) initiative and Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong participated in the inaugural Ministerial Meeting held in Tokyo just earlier this month. We look forward to working with likeminded partners in our region to develop joint projects on clean energy technologies and infrastructure and accelerate the region’s clean energy transition.
10 In the region, Singapore and Japan are natural and like-minded partners. We share a commitment to regional economic integration and upholding the open, rules-based multilateral trading system. The strong trust between our countries has enabled us to work closely together bilaterally and multilaterally for the advancement of free and open trade. Apart from the CPTPP, our countries are also parties to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and we have both joined the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, or IPEF. Singapore appreciates Japan’s support for our Chairmanship of the CPTPP Commission last year, and we look forward to continuing our close collaboration with Japan to further the ambition of the Agreement.
11 As mentioned by Prime Minister Lee at the 27th Nikkei Conference last year, given its influence and resources, Japan has a major role to play in regional affairs, including in the security sphere. We note Japan’s release of its new National Security Strategy in December 2022. Given the new strategic environment, Singapore hopes that Japan can consider how it can come to terms with the past and put to rest outstanding historical issues to make a greater contribution to regional security cooperation, and to participate in building and upholding an open and inclusive regional security architecture.
12 Japan is one of ASEAN’s most substantive Dialogue Partners, and this year marks a significant milestone in the relationship – the 50th Year of ASEAN-Japan Friendship and Cooperation. The catchphrase for this anniversary, “Golden Friendship, Golden Opportunities”, is very apt. It highlights the potential for ASEAN and Japan to do even more together in areas of mutual interest such as supply chain resilience, the digital economy, smart cities, climate change and sustainable development, and public health. Singapore is confident that Japan will work with ASEAN to support the development of concrete projects under the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific’s four priority areas of Connectivity, Maritime Cooperation, Sustainable Development Goals and Economic Cooperation. Singapore also welcomes Japan’s interest in establishing a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, or CSP, with ASEAN, and we look forward to working together to ensure a substantive, meaningful and mutually beneficial CSP.
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
13 The JSS is symbolic of the longstanding relationship between our countries. The frank exchange of views that has always taken place at the Symposium reflects the mutual trust and respect that we enjoy with one another. I am confident that the discussion this year will provide useful insights and ideas to further strengthen our cooperation. Thank you.