Toast Speech by President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Banquet hosted by PM Shinzo Abe at Kotei, Tokyo on 1 December 2016

Prime Minister and Mrs Shinzo Abe

Excellencies

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

            Konbanwa.

I would like to express my deep appreciation to Prime Minister and Mrs Abe for your warm welcome and thoughtful arrangements for my visit. My wife and I, as well as my delegation, are very happy to be here today. Last evening, we had the pleasure of being hosted to a State Banquet by Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress. It is an honour to be experiencing the famed Japanese hospitality at its finest.  

2016 marks a special milestone for Singapore and Japan as we celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations. Japan is a close and longstanding friend of Singapore. In the early years of Singapore’s nationhood, Japan was one of the first countries to invest heavily in Singapore. Japanese companies brought not only jobs, but also technology and standards of excellence in efficiency and quality. This helped lay the ground for Singapore’s subsequent industrialisation and development.  

Over the years, our economic ties continue to strengthen, anchored by the Japan-Singapore Economic Partnership Agreement, or JSEPA. In force since 2002, the JSEPA was Japan’s first bilateral free trade agreement, and Singapore’s first with a major trading partner. Today, Japan is Singapore’s eighth-largest trading partner and second-largest foreign investor, and Singapore is Japan’s largest Asian investor. I am happy to note the strength of our economic partnership, and look forward to the completion of the Third Review of the JSEPA.

Political relations between Singapore and Japan are also excellent, with regular interactions and strong rapport between leaders of the two countries.  Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew was very familiar with Japan, and had set the foundation for closer bilateral ties 50 years ago. We deeply appreciate Japan’s conferment of the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers on Mr Lee during Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s visit this September. In fact, my first visit to Japan in an official capacity was back in 1979, when I accompanied Mr Lee on his Official Visit. I have since visited Japan many times in different capacities, and it has always been a pleasure to discuss new areas of collaboration with my Japanese counterparts. I am pleased that this close exchange between our two countries has continued through the years.  

Over the past five decades, we have seen the relationship between Singapore and Japan strengthen and mature, underpinned by mutual respect and shared interests in ensuring peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region. Singapore and Japan cooperate well not just bilaterally, but also beyond our borders. For example, Singapore and Japan jointly train government officials from third countries under the Japan-Singapore Partnership Programme for the 21st Century, or JSPP21, which is Singapore’s largest development partnership with another country. As a key Dialogue Partner of ASEAN, Japan has also been actively engaging ASEAN in a diverse range of issues, including human resource development, women empowerment, and on connectivity and infrastructure projects. Such initiatives play a key role in building an integrated, developed regional community, to the benefit of all our peoples.   

Speaking about the close ties between Singapore and Japan would not be complete without a mention of our enduring people-to-people relations. Japan is one of Singaporeans’ top travel destinations, with tourist numbers exceeding 300,000 in 2015. On the other hand, Singapore welcomed over 700,000 Japanese visitors in the same year. The exchanges were facilitated by improved air connectivity between the two countries, and there is potential for us to deepen these links further.

The goodwill and friendship between our peoples were also most evident in Singaporeans’ response to the 11 March Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011. In the wake of this heart-breaking disaster, Singaporeans from all walks of life came together in a show of support. The funds raised amounted to one of Singapore’s largest ever disaster relief contributions to a single country, and went towards several reconstruction projects across the Tohoku region, including the Toyama Nursery School in Shichigahama, Miyagi Prefecture, which I will visit later this week. I look forward to meeting the children there and hope that our Singaporeans’ small act of friendship has made a positive difference in their lives. We hope that these projects contribute to the region’s capacity to respond to future incidents. While last week’s earthquake was thankfully not too serious, it was a stark reminder of the need to be prepared.

Ladies and Gentlemen

A key characteristic of the Singapore-Japan friendship is its forward-looking nature. The past 50 years of excellent relations have provided us with a solid foundation to chart the path ahead. There is potential to do much more. For example, our societies face similar challenges of an ageing population and low birth rates. Singapore strives to be a Smart Nation empowered by technology in our everyday lives – and who better to look to for high-tech solutions than Japan? 

As we progress to the next 50 years of Singapore-Japan relations, we will tap on these opportunities to work together and learn from each other, to further expand bilateral cooperation in breadth and scope, and foster regional integration and stability, for the good and prosperity of our nations.

May I now invite you to rise and join me in a toast:

  • To the good health and continued success of Prime Minister and Mrs Abe
  • To the peace and prosperity of the people of Japan
  • To the enduring friendship between Japan and Singapore
  • And to the future of our excellent relations.

Kanpai!

Thank you.