Straits Times: Japan firms tap Singapore agencies in smart city projects

Republic viewed as a good entry point to fast growing Asean market

Walter Sim 
Japan Correspondent In Tokyo

Japanese companies have been working with Singapore agencies to create smart city solutions that are rolled out in South-east Asia, inevitably providing a boost to their home country's soft power.

They include materials supplier Asahi Glass Co (AGC), which opened an application development centre in Singapore last year. "South-east Asia is the next growth engine," Mr Lim Yew Meng, executive director of AGC Asia Pacific, told The Straits Times. It has clients in the region across four business units - glass, chemicals, electronics and ceramics.

Companies The Straits Times spoke to cited political stability, good infrastructure, level of government support and a ready pool of human resources as reasons why they chose Singapore as an entry point into Asean. The 10-member grouping is expected to become the world's fourth-largest single market by 2030.

And Singapore, too, has been actively courting Japanese companies. A symposium was held in Tokyo earlier this year by national water agency PUB and the National Environment Agency.

During the session, PUB's assistant director for industry associations Yeo Sheng Wei said: "It is not just about Singapore. When you're with us in our industry, we'll also help you take part in other projects."

University of Tokyo's Dr Heng Yee Kuang, who studies diplomacy issues, said: "Of course, private companies are driven by profit, but the benefit may be an increased attraction towards Japan as a whole - particularly as a country keen to offer assistance and help to Asean facing shared challenges... It showcases Japan's collaborative approach to co-creating shared solutions with Asean, not just at the governmental level, but at the private sector (level) too."

This is exemplified by Japanese technology firm Meiden Singapore, which has worked on projects with agencies such as Singapore Power, the Land Transport Authority and PUB.

Managing director Ko Yamamoto said: "To accomplish major railway projects overseas such as in Thailand and Malaysia, we dispatched our experts from Singapore who have many years of experience in railway projects."

In 2011, Japanese conglomerate Mitsui & Co acquired Singapore container port firm Portek as a way to enter Indonesia's port sector.

A company spokesman said: "Mitsui is well-recognised as a major infrastructure developer, including in power projects, but it is not known as a port developer and operator, given its limited port assets and relevant experience."

But with Portek on board, Mitsui & Co was able to partner Singapore port operator PSA and two other firms to jointly construct and operate a new container terminal at the Tanjung Priok port in North Jakarta.

Separately, Mr Genki Ono of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries noted issues such as "traffic jams, air pollution and waste treatment" in many cities in the region. This has created a demand for social infrastructure components such as power and chemical plants, transportation systems and power generation systems, which the company can meet, he added.

Ms Fong Pin Fen, director for cities, infrastructure and industrial solutions at Singapore's Economic Development Board, told The Straits Times that a rising middle class, as well as rapid urbanisation, and issues such as water and energy security in the region, would allow Singapore to serve as a "living laboratory for innovative solutions".