Singapore, Japan can team up to tackle social issues: Vivian Balakrishnan

Ageing population and low birth rate are problems both nations face: Vivian

Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan (left) is welcomed by his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida prior to their talks in Tokyo on April 26. PHOTO: AFP

As Singapore and Japan face similar challenges like ageing populations and low birth rates, the two nations should work together to find solutions to these issues, said Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in Tokyo yesterday.

This could be done through cooperation in medical research, artificial intelligence and robotics, and ageing and healthcare technology, he said at the 11th Japan-Singapore Symposium (JSS).

Japan is "already quite advanced" in these areas, and Singapore can benefit from its expertise, said Dr Balakrishnan, who is also Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative.

"We are looking carefully at Japanese technology in the area of human-machine interaction and humanising it so that it solves real human challenges for the future."

This is but one area Singapore and Japan could collaborate on, Dr Balakrishnan and Japanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs Seiji Kihara said yesterday.

The biennial JSS will be a yearly event from now on, they added, to further strengthen bilateral and regional cooperation.

Yesterday marked 50 years to the day bilateral ties were established on April 26, 1966. The two ministers took the occasion to trace the progress of bilateral ties over the decades, and to identify areas for even closer cooperation.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "What binds Japan and Singapore is our ability to look forward, to continuously evolve and strengthen our relationship, not only on the bilateral front but also towards the common pursuit of peace, stability and prosperity for our region."

Both countries share a common strategic outlook, he said, calling on Japan and regional countries to "work together with Asean to advance regional peace, stability and prosperity, and uphold and protect a rules-based regional and international order".

Dr Balakrishnan also stressed that Singapore does not take sides on competing territorial claims, saying that recent developments in the South China Sea have raised concerns and sometimes, tension.

Mr Kihara, who spoke about the two countries' role in promoting maritime security, yesterday suggested they address regional issues "more actively" through Asean and the East Asia Summit. He said it was "regrettable" that the rule of law at sea has been "compromised", given the situation in the South China Sea.

Dr Balakrishnan noted both Japan and Singapore support the United States' continued presence in the region. Hence, Singapore was one of the earliest supporters of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's "Proactive Contribution to Peace" security policy.

He said that Singapore also welcomes recent reconciliatory efforts in North-east Asia such as the comfort women deal between Japan and South Korea, and the resumption of summit meetings between Mr Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Meanwhile, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact could also form the basis for further discussions on the landmark Japan-Singapore Economic Partnership Agreement, which is under review, Dr Balakrishnan said.

Mr Kihara said: "As members of the TPP, Japan and Singapore can be centrepieces and expand its merits in the region and the world."

To mark 50 years of ties, Mr Kihara said a Japanese food and cultural event will be held at Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza in October. Dr Balakrishnan said that some supermarket chains in Japan have also started a campaign to promote Singapore culture through food like chicken rice and char kway teow.

Dr Balakrishnan, who returns to Singapore today, was hosted to dinner by Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida last night.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2016, with the headline Singapore, Japan can team up to tackle social issues: Vivian Balakrishnan. Subscribe