Bridges: As the new Ambassador, how would you describe the current Singapore-Japan relationship?
Ambassador Ong Eng Chuan: Singapore and Japan enjoy excellent relations, underpinned by frequent high-level exchanges, robust economic cooperation, and flourishing people-to-people ties.
In terms of high-level exchanges, our Prime Ministers have met more than four times over the last two years, and there are frequent visits both ways by our Cabinet Ministers. Our economic cooperation is underpinned by the Japan-Singapore Economic Partnership Agreement (JSEPA), which is Japan’s first economic partnership agreement.
We are among each other’s top investors and investment destinations. We are also close partners in plurilateral arrangements such as the RCEP, the IPEF, and the CPTPP, as well as multilateral arrangements such as the WTO.
In addition, our growing people-to-people ties are self-evident, with strong two-way tourism flows and exchanges between our schools, museums, musicians, artists, and even our botanical gardens.
Our bilateral relations were painstakingly built by generations of Singaporean and Japanese leaders, who recognised that our two countries share profound strategic interests in building a peaceful and stable region and an open, inclusive, and rules-based architecture.
As the new Ambassador, I see my most important task as upholding that vision, by ensuring that our relations continue to serve us well even as new challenges and opportunities emerge in the world around us. I am glad that our high-level exchanges have provided impetus for fruitful outcomes, such as new agreements on current issues like digitalisation and sustainability.
But there is still much more we can do more together. The Japanese name of the JSEPA is日本シンガポール新時代経済連携協定. It was a gold standard agreement for what was then a new era, and reflects our shared drive to position our bilateral relations at the cutting-edge of competitiveness. I hope that our countries can continue in that spirit as we seek to elevate our relations to a higher level.
Economically, whether in terms of technology or standards-setting, we should deepen cooperation in engines of future growth such as the Digital Economy, Artificial Intelligence, and Clean Energy.
In terms of people-to-people exchanges, we should enhance flight connectivity, to further support and grow the strong demand for business and leisure travel between Singapore and Japan.
August 8th marks ASEAN Day. What role do you see Singapore playing alongside its neighbours in the future?
Singapore will continue to work with fellow ASEAN Member States and ASEAN Partners to contribute to regional and global peace and stability, and the international rules-based order. ASEAN’s goal is to build a strong, prosperous and rules-based ASEAN.
Singapore shares and strongly supports this goal. We have done so actively and consistently since ASEAN was formed in 1967 with Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore as founding members. Over the years, ASEAN’s success in building ASEAN centrality and relevance has naturally accompanied its expansion.
Today, ASEAN comprise ten member states, eleven comprehensive strategic and dialogue partners and many more sectoral and development partnerships. We also have ASEAN-led platforms such as the ASEAN Plus Three, East Asia Summit, ASEAN Regional Forum, the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus and other sectoral meetings.
I mention ASEAN’s expansion because Japan also has an important role to play in this regard. Japan is one of ASEAN’s oldest Dialogue Partners. We are celebrating the 50th anniversary of ASEAN-Japan Dialogue Relations this year, and look forward to upgrading ASEAN-Japan relations to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.
As my Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong mentioned in his Nikkei Conference speech this year, since the 1977 Fukuda doctrine, Japan has built close relations with ASEAN based on a “heart to heart” understanding of each other’s concerns. Based on the principle of equal partnership, Japan has built a strong reservoir of goodwill, and has emerged in surveys of the region as the most trusted major power in Southeast Asia.
I hope Japan can leverage this foundation of trust and engage ASEAN on its own merits, whether by working with ASEAN to maintain regional stability, security and growth, or by partnering the region as a leader in green technologies and digital solutions.
There also remain many great opportunities for Japan to strengthen its economic and infrastructure cooperation with Southeast Asia. Singapore would be glad to lend our strength in facilitating Japan’s efforts in these areas.
Embassy of the Republic of Singapore in Tokyo
Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0032