Japan and Singapore Strategic Partners Developing the Region

Singapore’s Ambassador to Japan Lui Tuck Yew shares some insights with Synergy Media Specialists on the current state Japan-Singapore relations.

Singapore and Japan have teamed up with initiatives such as the Japan Singapore Partnership Program for the 21st Century (JSPP 21) to facilitate ASEAN integration and provide technical cooperation to third countries. How has the Singapore-Japan relationship contributed thus far and are there any special plans in motion as 2020 approaches?

First established in 1994, the JSPP21 is one of Singapore’s most successful and longstanding development partnerships with over 6,400 alumni participants. We renewed our partnership in Dec 2018 to expand our outreach to the Asia-Pacific region and consider new forms of joint cooperation, such as conducting joint seminars in third countries and supplementing each other’s training programmes. For example, we recently conducted an Info-Comm Technology course in Ramallah, to support the Cooperation of East Asian Countries for Palestinian Development (CEAPAD) initiative.  We continually review our programmes to meet evolving development needs, as we look towards cooperation till 2020 and beyond.

Singapore is decidedly seen as the hub for South East Asia and is one of Japan’s largest trade partners. What are the main economic sectors of cooperation between Singapore and Japan? What areas of cooperation are on the rise?

Singapore and Japan share long-standing economic ties, underpinned by strong trade, investment and tourism linkages. On the trade and investment front, Japan was Singapore’s 7th largest trading partner in 2018 and 3rd largest foreign investor as of end-2017.  Major Japanese conglomerates like Schneider Electric, Hitachi and Takeda Pharmaceuticals have established their presence in Southeast Asia, using Singapore as a base. Similarly, Singapore is Japan’s top Asian investor and 4th largest cumulative source of foreign investment as of end-2017. While Singapore companies in Japan have traditionally focused on sectors such as hospitality, real estate and logistics sectors, they are also seeking out new opportunities in food services, healthcare and precision engineering. For example, Bee Cheng Hiang entered Tokyo in 2016 and is looking to expand their footprint in Japan.


Looking ahead, Singapore and Japanese companies can continue to tap on each other’s complementary strengths, and venture into third-party markets to promote quality infrastructure.  Singapore’s strengths in master planning and systems integration complements Japan’s strengths in technology and engineering. For example, Singapore’s urban, industrial, and infrastructure consulting firm Surbana Jurong has partnered the Japan Overseas Investment Corporation for Transport and Urban Development (JOIN) and Philippines’ Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) to support the development of New Clark City, a smart and green metropolis in the Philippines.

As both countries transform our economies and enhance productivity, there is also scope for closer innovation collaboration between Singapore and Japanese companies, especially in the digital economy.  Indeed, Japanese startups are entering Singapore to tap on our pro-business environment, strong protection of intellectual property and geographical location within Southeast Asia. In the area of smart agriculture, Japanese aquaculture data analytics startup UMITRON, which builds aquaculture data platforms that leverage the use of Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence and satellite remote sensing, established its headquarters in Singapore in 2016. Like-wise, Singapore startups are also growing their presence in Japan. In the area of smart retail, Singapore startup Honestbee, an online grocery concierge service startup, first launched its services in Japan in 2015 and is now looking to bring its cashless brick-and-mortar supermarkets to Japan.

Last year, Tokyo has also joined Singapore’s Global Innovation Alliance (GIA) network of Innovation Launchpads. To facilitate mutual access to each other’s innovation ecosystems, the Economic Development Board (EDB), Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO) will develop initiatives, events and information exchanges for startups and businesses from Singapore and Japan.

What type of targets or initiatives have you set out for the Embassy during your time as the Singaporean Ambassador to Japan?

“The challenge for any Ambassador in a country with which bilateral relations are already excellent and broad-based is to find and develop new areas of cooperation.” 

The challenge for any Ambassador in a country with which bilateral relations are already excellent and broad-based is to find and develop new areas of cooperation.  In this regard, I hope to first promote further cooperation in quality infrastructure projects in third countries.  There are significant infrastructure demands in the region, and I believe that there are there is scope to leverage our respective strengths to encourage private sector infrastructure investment into Southeast Asia.  Our newly established Infrastructure Asia office can play a crucial role in this area.

Second, the development of smart cities is another area in which Singapore and Japan can further collaborate.  Indeed, Japan was one of the first and strongest supporters of the ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN), one of Singapore’s key initiatives during our ASEAN Chairmanship in 2018.  We hope to work closely with Japan to make the most of the synergies between the ASCN and Japan’s “Society 5.0” concept, in order to harness the benefits of the 4th industrial revolution for the betterment of our people’s lives.

Third, both Singapore and Japan are experiencing demographic challenges, which will have long term implications on government policy planning and infrastructure investment.  Thus, there is great potential for collaboration, such as through the sharing policy ideas and best practices on ageing, healthcare, immigration and talent flow, as well as the use technology to overcome the challenges of an ageing population.

What message do you have to send to the members of the Japanese, Singaporean and ASEAN business communities that will be reading this report?

One of the key messages is that businesses should take advantage of Singapore and Japan’s commitment to free and open trade. Bilaterally, we signed the Japan-Singapore Economic Partnership Agreement in 2002, which was Japan’s first Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and Singapore’s first FTA with a major trading partner. At the regional level, both Singapore and Japan have ratified the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and are parties to the on-going Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations.  Singaporean, Japanese and Southeast Asian companies can tap on this network of bilateral and regional trade agreements to strengthen their competitiveness and access opportunities in each other’s markets as well as overseas.


Another message is that as a microcosm of a highly diversified Asia, Singapore is an ideal base for companies to develop new technologies for the Southeast Asia region. They would be able to leverage Singapore’s expertise in various industries, such as biomedical sciences, electronics, chemicals and precision engineering, and established networks with the rest of Southeast Asia to capture business opportunities in the region and beyond.  To give one example, Hitachi Metals conducted a joint research study with Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute (NEWRI) at Nanyang Technological University on its ceramics absorption filter in 2018. Hitachi Metals aims to tap on Singapore’s water ecosystem to accelerate efforts toward commercial applications of its new products and expand the business in Singapore and the region.

Official Message from Ho Meng Kit, CEO of the Singapore Business Federation

Since Singapore’s independence in 1965, Japan and Singapore have enjoyed a strong and steadfast relationship built on mutual trust, aligned interests and a shared commitment to a free, open, and rules-based international order.

Our bilateral and trade ties have also grown from strength to strength over the years. As our sixth largest trading partner in 2017, Japan is, today, one of Singapore’s most important economic partners.

In force since 2002, the Japan-Singapore Economic Partnership Agreement (JSEPA) marked a major milestone for both nations as it was Japan’s first free trade agreement and Singapore’s first with a major trading partner. Looking ahead, we are excited about the opportunities the landmark Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans- Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) will bring as it entered into force on last Dec 30 for the first six countries that ratified the pact, including Japan and Singapore. This trade pact will undoubtedly boost our trade ties further.

Today marks the momentous ascension of Crown Prince Naruhito to the Chrysanthemum Throne. It also signals the start of a new era. We extend our heartiest congratulations to Emperor Naruhito and send our best wishes for the well-being of Japan and its people. Through closer friendship and enhanced cooperation, we look forward to working together to bring the businesses and people of both countries closer together.

Statement by Director General Masakazu Kubota, Keidanren (Japan Business Federation)

Japan and Singapore have built up an excellent and mutually beneficial relationship over many years. Economic ties between the two countries are particularly close, and more than 1,200 Japanese companies now have offices in Singapore, including many that have their Asian regional headquarters there.

Our two nations share the common goal of maintaining a free and open international economic order, amid growing concerns about the rise of protectionism around the world. The ratification of the CPTPP, which came into force on 30 December 2018, sends a strong message against protectionism.

In the years to come, I hope and expect that our two countries will continue to expand and strengthen their cooperation and work together to tackle the challenges facing the regional and global economy.


Key opinion leaders from the Japan-Singapore business community share some insights:

“Our relationship with Singapore is of the utmost importance to us and we value our collaboration very much. Singapore’s expertise in human genetics and infectious disease are great assets to medicine, and the Singaporean science community has already contributed greatly to the analysis of Avian genetics and made enormous contributions to global health. At AMED, we know that Singapore is an indispensable partner to Japan, and by building a strong relationship, we will be able to make more impactful strides in translational and clinical medicine” — Dr. Makoto Suematsu, President of the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development (AMED)

“While the Japanese government has historically backed infrastructure projects in the ASEAN region, Japanese companies are coming together to see what the private sector can do. In the past, infrastructure was mainly a government affair and through ODA but now the private sector has stepped in to provide funding and ensure the quality of Japanese infrastructure projects.”

“Moving forward, it is crucial to consider the economic rebalancing of the ASEAN member states and Japan in all negotiations. We want to facilitate sustainable and healthy growth with a long-term outlook. Additionally, ASEAN has entered into force several free trade agreements, which open up a wealth of opportunities for ASEAN member states to become more involved within the global economy and invite investment from around the world. With ASEAN’s fairly newfound recognition from the global community as a valuable market with huge potential, the possibilities for international collaboration are endless. Furthermore, we want to emphasize the importance of ASEAN development with respect to global issues that concern us all, such as the environment and sustainability. We are motivated to use our position to contribute to the world in a positive way.” — Masataka Fujita, Secretary General, ASEAN-Japan Centre

“We need to take care of our people. Whether they are old, young, disabled or disadvantaged, every person has the potential to contribute positively and bring value to our society. We realize that people are more motivated when they are working towards a good cause, with good people, and in a holistic work environment. We create jobs that have a higher purpose and contribute to society in profound ways.” — Yasuyuki Nambu, President and CEO, Pasona Group

“For almost three millennia, Japan has been guided by Hakkō Ichiu, a philosophy created by its first emperor Jimmu which translates to, all of the eight corners of the world under one roof. It signifies that the world is all one family. Many Japanese companies that have existed for centuries are guided by corporate philosophies that include a responsibility to society.  For us now especially, in this fast-paced world, discovering purpose is all the more essential to long-term sustainability. As a leading edtech company, this is one of the values GLOBIS tries to instil in our clients, both in Japan and with our clients in East Asia.” — Toru Takahashi, Managing Director of GLOBIS

“The Asian market is very important to us. The Asian people tend to value the quality and longevity of products and equipment, which is our specialty. With South East Asian countries gaining more spending power and an increase in demand within the beauty industry, our Asian market is growing. In Singapore, we have formed relationships with beauticians and we market directly to our clientele. We plan to develop our presence in Malaysia and Vietnam as well using our signature business style.” — Hidetaka Yoshikawa, Chairman and CEO, Takara Belmont Corporation

“Singapore is an ideal hub for AstrosScale to tackle the global issue of space debris removal for several reasons. Firstly, Singapore is a neutral country that has friendly relations with the heavy-hitters in the space industry: the United States of America, Russia, China, the European Union, and of course, Japan. These good relations make Singapore a valuable location for our company. Secondly, accounting groups in Singapore largely use USD as their functional currency and since the half of the space industry market industry is heavily supported by the United States government, raising funds in USD makes the most sense for AstrosScale and gives Singapore another edge. Singapore is a convenient place for us to allocate money to our other offices and our base there acts indispensably as a control tower.” — Nobu Okada, Founder & CEO, Astroscale Holdings Inc.


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