Singapore celebrates 50 years of diplomatic ties with Japan; aim to boost ties with Kagoshima prefecture

SINGAPORE - Culture, tourism and trade are some areas Singapore is looking to boost ties with the Kagoshima prefecture in southern Japan.

This was discussed here on Tuesday at the 18th conference between the two sides, and attended by Singapore Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Josephine Teo and Kagoshima Governor Yuichiro Ito.

The biennial conference, which started in 1982 and is hosted alternately by Singapore and Kagoshima, takes on special significance this year as it marks the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Japan.

"On this very special occasion, we commemorate the very multi-faceted and deep relationship between Singapore and Japan," Mrs Teo told reporters afterwards. "We hope to build on these warm relations and robust ties."

One area being looked into is a programme that could include high-level exchanges between leaders of both countries, Mrs Teo added, without elaborating.

Singapore also has burgeoning ties with Kagoshima.

In recent years, Singapore has worked to promote investments in Kagoshima's renewable energy sector, specifically in solar projects, Mrs Teo said.

The city-state has also promoted Kagoshima produce through food fairs and culinary workshops at supermarkets. On top of that, the Singapore Botanic Gardens and Kagoshima Flower Park have had a longstanding relationship.

Performing arts groups from both sides have also participated in each other's festivals through cultural exchanges. The Kagoshima Kokubuchuo Senior High School Dance Club will be presenting an item at the upcoming Chingay parade.

Mr Ito said Singapore is an important gateway for Kagoshima companies into Southeast Asia, given the establishment of the Asean Economic Community on Dec 31 last year.

"It is very important for Kagoshima to have more extensive exchanges to Singapore," he said. "Kagoshima hopes to catch the wave of vibrant development."

Mrs Teo, meanwhile, said she hopes both sides can also build closer ties in food exports and tourism. Kagoshima is famous for quality produce such as Kurobuta black pork, buri or yellowtail, and kibinago or silver-striped herring.

The signing of an agreement between the Singapore and Japan tourism boards on Monday to promote two-way tourist traffic, too, is a boon for the promotion of Kagoshima as a tourist attraction among Singaporeans.

Mrs Teo noted how Kagoshima is home to attractions such as the picturesque Sakurajima volcano and the unique Ibusuki onsen, while the prefecture also has a storied past.

She also outlined areas where Singapore and Japan have forged close ties over the years.

First, there is the framework of the 2002 Japan-Singapore Economic Agreement for a New Age Partnership, which Mrs Teo said is Japan's first ever free trade agreement with a foreign country and Singapore's first with a major economy.

And there is the $36 million donated by Singaporeans to four reconstruction projects in the Tohoku region following the March 11, 2011 earthquake is "one of the largest sums ever contributed by Singapore to disaster relief and rebuilding efforts in a foreign country", she added.

waltsim@sph.com.sg