Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on 4-day official visit to Tokyo starting Monday

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is set to make a four-day official visit to Tokyo starting Monday (Sept 26). ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

TOKYO - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will make a four-day official visit to Tokyo starting Monday (Sept 26), during which he will meet his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe.

His trip marks 50 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries, said Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in a statement on Sunday.

On the visit ending Thursday, PM Lee will receive, from Mr Abe, Japan's top honour for a foreign dignitary on behalf of the late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Japan has posthumously awarded Mr Lee, who died in March last year, with the prestigious Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers to recognise his contributions to the development of bilateral relations over several decades.

This is the second award Japan has conferred on Mr Lee, who in 1967 received the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun. This is one level lower than the current honour.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga had said, in announcing the award in February: "Mr Lee strived to strengthen relations with Japan and was successful in building a friendship between the two nations."

The honour was first established in 1888 as the highest award within the Orders of the Rising Sun, which had eight classes. It was in 2003 that it was elevated as a different award, known as the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers.

Only four other dignitaries have received the award since it became a class of its own in 2003, including former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2014, and former United States Senator Daniel Inouye in 2011.

Mr Abe will present the award to PM Lee at a bilateral summit meeting, and will also host a banquet for Mr Lee and the Singapore delegation.

The trip reinforces the robust economic and people-to-people ties between the two nations.

In 2002, Singapore became the first country to enter a free trade pact with Japan.

And as of the end of last year, Singapore is Japan's top Asian - and fifth largest overall - foreign direct investor with a cumulative investment of US$15.1 billion (S$20.5 billion).

Japan, meanwhile, was Singapore's eighth largest trading partner, with bilateral trade worth S$46.5 billion. It was also Singapore's second largest foreign direct investor with cumulative investment of S$109.4 billion.

Further, nearly 800,000 Japanese tourists visited Singapore last year, while over 300,000 Singaporeans - or about one in 10 citizens - went to Japan.

During his trip, PM Lee will meet Japanese political and business leaders.

He will also deliver a keynote speech at a Special Session of the 22nd Nikkei International Conference on The Future of Asia, held by Japanese publisher Nikkei Inc.

The late Mr Lee used to attend the annual conference, and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong gave a speech at this year's event held in May.

PM Lee will also meet Singaporeans who are staying in Japan at a National Day reception.

PM Lee will be accompanied by Mrs Lee, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, Senior Ministers of State Josephine Teo and Sim Ann, as well as North West District Mayor Teo Ho Pin and Member of Parliament Zainal Sapari.

The delegation will also comprise senior officials from the Prime Minister's Office, the MFA, and the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam will be Acting Prime Minister in PM Lee's absence.

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