Singapore-Japan relations enjoy a strong foundation based on the keen interest in each other's countries by both peoples, especially the youths.
But our relationship with Japan can be improved further if more people-to-people exchanges occur, and not just leisure travel, said Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong on May 26, 2023.
Start from a strong base
Wong was speaking in Tokyo, Japan on the second day of the 28th Nikkei Forum on the Future of Asia.
Responding to a question from Mothership on how the youth of Singapore can strengthen ties with Japan, Wong said people-to-people exchanges are critical, and fortunately, we are starting from a strong base.
"There is great interest on both sides for the peoples of our respective countries to visit one another," he said.
Japan is undoubtedly one of Singapore's favourite travel destinations. Prior to the pandemic, about 500,000 Singapore residents (about 10 per cent of the population) visited Japan in a year.
Once border restrictions were lifted in Dec. 2022, 60,000 Singapore residents visited within the month alone. And likewise, there is interest from the Japanese to visit Singapore.
However, Wong would like to see exchanges to go beyond leisure travel, and hoped that more people on both sides would travel to study, work and engage in more substantive activities.
Wong said "we will continue" exploring how to promote that and encourage Singaporeans to spend time studying in Japanese universities, be it on an exchange programme or even a full-time one.
Interest in establishing start-ups in Singapore
Wong shared that a representative of a financial institution told him he noticed many young founders of start-ups in Japan liked to come to Singapore to establish the start-up, and grow it.
"Because in Singapore they see a cosmopolitan business environment, documents are in English, and so coming to Singapore allows them to very quickly scale up their business venture into overseas markets, which is a good sign.
And so I think working on such collaboration amongst our young people, among startups, will allow for closer ties between our two countries and will really help to add a new dimension in our economic cooperation as well."
Meeting with Japanese PM Kishida
Aside from speaking at the Nikkei Asia conference during his official visit, Wong attended a reception with Singaporean residents of Japan and had meetings with Japanese political and business leaders.
Wong also met with Japanese foreign minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, Japanese finance minister Suzuki Shunichi and Sri Lankan president Ranil Wickremsinghe.
In particular, Wong had a bilateral meeting with Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida on May 26, reaffirming the excellent ties between the two countries and discussing ways to further cooperation in areas of mutual interest like digitalisation and the green economy.
They also discussed key regional and international developments, and "reaffirmed the importance of maintaining an open, inclusive and rules-based regional architecture, including by tapping on the potential synergies between the Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) and Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) Plan" said Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a press statement.
Wong also welcomed Japan's efforts to strengthen ties with Asean, and as both sides mark the 50th year of Asean-Japan Friendship and Cooperation, looked forward to the upgrade of relations to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.
Read Mothership's exclusive coverage of Lawrence Wong in Tokyo:
Top image by Andrew Koay and MCI.