Today marks the 50th anniversary of the excellent bilateral relations between Singapore and Japan. This is a significant milestone. Japan has been a steadfast partner of Singapore since our Independence in August 1965. Japanese companies were among the first to recognise Singapore's potential in the initial years. They were a critical source of foreign direct investments, management expertise and technical skills at a time when Singapore was just embarking on industrialisation.
Since then, our bilateral ties have deepened, based on mutual trust, alignment of interests and effective cooperation. Our leaders enjoy regular exchanges, and our economic and people-to-people ties are growing from strength to strength.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have met several times a year over the last few years. Around 37,000 Japanese live in Singapore. They have endeared themselves to Singaporeans. The outpouring of support by Singaporeans for the victims affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011 speaks volumes of this deep friendship and kizuna between our peoples.
Today, Japan is one of Singapore's most important economic partners. A key piece of our economic relations is the Japan-Singapore Economic Partnership Agreement or JSEPA, which was Japan's first ever Free Trade Agreement and Singapore's first with a major trading partner. The JSEPA, which entered into force in November 2002, has played an important role in catalysing bilateral trade and investment flows. The world has witnessed many changes since 2002.
To ensure its continued relevance, a review of the JSEPA is necessary for the mutual benefit of our two economies and people of our two countries. We should also take this opportunity to expand our air connectivity, which will further buttress our economic and people-to-people exchanges. Beyond our strong bilateral partnership, our two countries also share many common interests in regional issues and work closely through the Asean-Japan framework.
As we mark and celebrate this milestone in our relations, it is important for us to look ahead and bring our relations to the next level. I look forward to ushering in an era of closer friendship and enhanced cooperation with our Japanese friends for the next 50 years and more.