VIENTIANE - Asean is grateful for Japan's continued support for Asean centrality, and is confident that the Asean-Japan partnership will continue growing from strength to strength, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said during the Asean-Japan summit on Wednesday (Sept 7).
Mr Lee noted that Japan is one of Asean's oldest dialogue partners and an important one, and that the two sides have broad-based cooperation in diverse areas such as disaster management, maritime security, education and tourism.
"Japan has consistently supported Asean Member States through aid and technical cooperation initiatives," said Mr Lee.
"Both Asean and Japan share interest in the prosperity of our region: peace and stability are the premises of our shared progress."
On the South China Sea issue, Mr Lee said the grouping welcomes Japan's consistent support for the peaceful settlement of maritime disputes in accordance with international law.
On the Korean Peninsula, Mr Lee said that Singapore is concerned about North Korea's "deliberate and provocative actions in defiance of calls by the international community", and said he hoped that North Korea will return to the dialogue table "sooner rather than later".
The United Nations Security Council on Tuesday strongly condemned North Korea's latest ballistic missile launches and threatened "further significant measures" if it refuses to stop its nuclear and missile tests after the hermit state fired three ballistic missiles off its east coast into the Sea of Japan.
The launch was widely seen as a show of force timed to grab attention at a time when world leaders were converging in Laos for the Asean and related summits.
Mr Lee said Asean and Japan also enjoy a strong economic relationship, and noted that good progress has been made on the 10-Year Strategic Economic Cooperation Roadmap and Asean-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership (AJCEP).
With Asean looking for ways to promote greater tourism and people-to-people links, Mr Lee said it is also important to ink a "liberal and mutually beneficial" Asean-Japan Air Services Agreement that goes above and beyond what has been agreed bilaterally between Japan and individual Asean member states.
"This will substantially increase market access and generate direct and tangible benefits for people in the region," he said.