Japanese minister first top-level official to visit S'pore since Covid-19 outbreak

Japan's top diplomat Toshimitsu Motegi will arrive in Singapore today for a three-day visit, becoming the first high-ranking minister to make an official visit to the Republic since border restrictions were put in place due to Covid-19.

Mr Motegi is scheduled to pay a courtesy call on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and hold talks with his Singapore counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement yesterday.

Japan's Foreign Ministry, in its own statement, noted that a new Cabinet was recently formed in Singapore. Referring to tomorrow's talks, it said: "Through this face-to-face meeting, we will strengthen bilateral relations and exchange opinions on measures against the coronavirus as well as regional geopolitics."

The talks will likely touch on the resumption of cross-border travel between the two countries, as well as on China's rising assertiveness in the South China Sea.

Singapore's Foreign Ministry in a statement last month described Singapore and Japan as strong economic partners.

It said: "The establishment of a reciprocal green lane between our countries will be an important and positive step forward towards restoring connectivity, and facilitating essential business and official travel with the necessary public health safeguards."

Mr Motegi will visit Kuala Lumpur on Friday for talks with Malaysia's Minister of International Trade and Industry Azmin Ali and Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, before returning to Tokyo on Saturday.

The Japanese minister's trip to Singapore and Malaysia this week comes amid a flurry of diplomatic activity by Tokyo as it looks to expand business opportunities and push for an easing of bilateral border controls.

Japan, which is spearheading a Free and Open Indo-Pacific vision, has also increasingly been taking a stronger tone against Beijing on such issues as its military expansionism in both the East and South China seas, as well as on Hong Kong.

Mr Motegi became the first Japanese Cabinet minister to travel abroad since February when he made a four-day visit to London last week to iron out the fine print of a new economic partnership agreement between his country and Britain.

He is also due to visit Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar from Aug 20 to 25.

The Straits Times understands that Mr Motegi will have to take a Covid-19 test before leaving and returning to Japan as a countermeasure against the disease.

His entourage will be kept to the bare minimum and he will travel by chartered plane. The use of public transport in the destination countries will also be avoided.

Upon his return to Japan, Mr Motegi will be exempted from the mandatory two-week quarantine period that all other travellers are subject to, so as not to interfere with his public duties.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2020, with the headline 'Japanese minister first top-level official to visit S'pore since Covid-19 outbreak'. Print Edition | Subscribe