Top Japanese honour for Lee Kuan Yew

PM Lee receiving the Grand Cordon of the Order of Paulownia Flowers, on behalf of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, from Mr Abe in Tokyo yesterday.
PM Lee receiving the Grand Cordon of the Order of Paulownia Flowers, on behalf of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, from Mr Abe in Tokyo yesterday.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday said Singapore's founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was "one of the greatest minds that Asia has brought to the world in our time".

"I would like to pay my utmost tribute to the extremely important role that he played for more than half a century for the peace and prosperity for the Asia-Pacific region and of the entire world," he added.

Mr Abe was speaking at a ceremony to posthumously confer Japan's highest honour for a foreign dignitary on the late Mr Lee, who died in March last year.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is in Tokyo for a four-day official visit, received the prestigious Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers on behalf of the late Mr Lee.

PM Lee yesterday thanked Mr Abe for "making a special effort" to attend the state funeral last year.

He said: "From the first days of our independence, Mr Lee adopted a forward-looking and constructive approach to bilateral relations."

Mr Lee was also "a great admirer of Japan's work ethic, discipline and productivity", he added.

At a dinner banquet hosted by Mr Abe last night, PM Lee noted that it was because of Mr Lee that relations between Singapore and Japan have progressed steadily. The two countries now enjoy substantial economic ties and intimate people-to-people relations.

Japan is one of the most popular travel destinations for Singaporeans, and the Japan Creative Centre in Singapore has also deepened the appreciation for Japanese culture, PM Lee said, as he offered a toast.

"I think the latest manifestation of Japanese soft power is Pokemon Go. It's even becoming almost as popular as Super Mario," he said to laughter from the guests, many of them Japanese leaders active in forging economic, political and cultural ties with Singapore. PM Lee was alluding to Mr Abe's appearance as the Nintendo game character at the Rio Olympics closing ceremony.

Mr Abe, too, observed that Singapore has lapped up Japanese pop culture. He noted that a Hello Kitty cafe opened at Changi Airport in May, and said: "Now, every time when people visit Singapore, the latest trend is to first be greeted by Hello Kitty - before they even have the chance to meet the Merlion!"

Walter Sim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2016, with the headline 'Top Japanese honour for LKY'. Print Edition | Subscribe