PM Lee, Abe exchange letters to mark 50 years of diplomatic ties between S'pore and Japan

SINGAPORE - As Singapore and Japan mark 50 years of diplomatic relations on Tuesday (April 26), Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said both countries should tap on what they have in common to lift their ties to greater heights.

In an exchange of letters with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to commemorate the occasion, Mr Abe noted that both countries have achieved "miraculous economic growth in such a short period of time".

They also share traits like excellent human resources, high-quality infrastructure and the rule of law.

"Tapping more into these assets, I strongly believe that we can elevate our bilateral relations to a higher level," Mr Abe wrote, adding that he looks forward to celebrating the milestone year with Mr Lee when he visits Japan in September.

Mr Lee, in his letter to Mr Abe, said Singapore has been working closely with Japan to advance their common interests.

Mr Lee added that Japan plays a key role in the peace and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region, and is an important partner in the US-Japan Security Alliance. He wrote: "Singapore hopes that it will continue to play this role actively, to the benefit of itself and the region."

Singapore and Japan established diplomatic relations on 26 April 1966, and copies of the letters to mark the 50th anniversary of ties were released by Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday night (April 25).

In their letters, both leaders traced the "enormous" growth in relations between their countries over the last 50 years.

Mr Lee cited close bilateral cooperation in diverse areas such as trade and investment, third-country training programmes, healthcare and cultural exchanges.

Particularly significant is the economic relationship, both leaders said, with both Singapore and Japan ranking among each other's top investment destinations.

Mr Abe noted in his letter that Japan was the first country to invest in Singapore after it gained independence in 1965, while Mr Lee wrote that Japanese companies have "played a key role in Singapore's development".

Mr Lee said the establishment of the Japan-Singapore Economic Partnership Agreement in 2002 was a "key milestone" to bilateral ties. It was Japan's first-ever free trade pact and Singapore's first with a major trading partner.

The agreement is currently being reviewed by officials of both countries "to make sure it keeps up with the times", Mr Lee noted.

Both countries are also part of the 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, which Mr Lee said will "further liberalise Asia-Pacific trade and foster regional economic integration".

On the TPP, Mr Abe added: "As trade-oriented nations, we hope to take the lead in discussions so as to bring about its early entry into force. "

Mr Lee noted that people-to-people ties were getting stronger.

Last year, some 800,000 Japanese visitors came to Singapore, and more than 300,000 Singaporeans visited Japan.

Another example of their strong friendship was how Singapore made a "modest" contribution to the rebuilding of the Tohoku region that was devastated in an earthquake and tsunami five years ago, Mr Lee said.

Mr Abe said today's close relationship owed much to the "outstanding contributions" of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, and called him "one of the greatest leaders of modern times that Asia has ever produced".

For these efforts, Japan posthumously awarded the late Mr Lee, who died in March last year, the prestigious Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers.

waltsim@sph.com.sg