See More on Facebook

Diplomacy, Economics

Opinion: Japan must return to being South-east Asia’s top trade partner

Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh called on Japan to return to Asean as its top investor, as it was in the 1970s and 1980s.


Written by

Updated: March 20, 2019

Veteran diplomats jousted at a public forum here over the question of whether Japan is sufficiently invested in South-east Asia, amid the former’s concerns about China’s growing influence in the region.

“You were Asean’s number one trade partner. Now you are number four. You were also number one in foreign direct investments. Now you are not. You have lost so much ground in South-east Asia,” he said.

He said that Japan’s foreign direct investment in the region is already overtaking what it spends in China.

The spirited debate ensued after Japanese academic Tsutomu Kikuchi at the event called for the creation of a new economic zone in the Bay of Bengal to replace China as a new market for investments.

It invited a riposte from Prof Koh who said that Singapore’s attitude is that the Chinese market is very important to South-east Asia, and that it is “not going to go away”.

He added: “If you are looking to reduce dependence on China, Japan should return to South-east Asia.”

Diplomats, academics and government officials from Japan and Singapore gathered in Tokyo on Tuesday for the 13th Japan-Singapore symposium, which was started 25 years ago as a platform for candid sharing of views between both countries.

It was co-organised by the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA) and Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA).

Keynote speakers stuck to the theme of Japan-Singapore Partnership: Ascending a New Peak.

Former Cabinet minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki, secretary-general of Japan-Singapore Parliamentarians’ Friendship League, called the relationship “a ray of light in the dark”.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Tan Wu Meng outlined how the two “close and natural partners” have many opportunities to work together such as in providing aid to developing countries, meeting the infrastructure needs in the region and deepening collaboration in areas such as e-commerce.

The discussion however then veered towards the elephant in the room.

Dr Kikuchi, vice-president of Aoyama Gakuin University, criticised China for often “acting contrary to our expectations”, and for ignoring rules governing international trade and investment.

He called for a creation of a “giant economic zone” comprising the countries ringing the Bay of Bengal, saying: “We need to identify a new market for investments that will replace China.”

Calling on Japan to divert its investment dollars to South-east Asia instead, economist Tan Khee Giap noted that Asean is attractive not just in terms of its labour costs but also its growing middle class as a market. The 10 Asean countries have a combined population of 600 million people, half that of China, he pointed out.

“If Japan comes back to Asean, it will help to balance the dominance of China in the region.”

Sounding a note of compromise, SIIA chairman Simon Tay acknowledged that some Asean countries may not have the trained workers or the infrastructure that Japanese companies need.

But, he added, this is “a happy dispute”, saying: “Japan is good at not just investing but also in training people.”

There was also agreement that Asean, for its part, should step up more by signing the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), brokered by Japan. Currently, only Singapore and Vietnam among Asean members have ratified the trade pact.

Said Mr Nogami, vice-chairman of the JIIA: “Asean is crucial but the response from Asean is limited.”

To this, Prof Koh agreed, saying: “Those of us who have already ratified should talk to countries such as Thailand and the Philippines to bring them up to speed. We should get more in Asean to join the CPTPP.”



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


About the Author: The Straits Times is Singapore's top-selling newspaper.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Diplomacy, Economics

10 US senators criticise Suu Kyi for representing military’s interest

Suu Kyi is in the Hague defending Myanmar from genocide accusations. Ten US Senators have severely criticized Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi for representing the military’s interest before the International Court of Justice and defending the mass atrocities committed against the Rohingyas and other ethnic minorities. “Representing the Burmese military’s interest before The Hague and defending the mass atrocities committed against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities would undermine what remaining credibility you have before the international community, including in the US Congress,” said a letter to Suu Kyi issued on December 9. The Senators said a defense of the Burmese military at this high-profile international forum is also an affront to the inclusive, multi-cultural and democratic Burma that she claims to champion. They said when Buddhist nationalism is on the rise in


By Daily Star
December 13, 2019

Diplomacy, Economics

India under Modi is moving systematically with a supremacist agenda, says PM Imran

Imran Khan made the comments after India passed a controversial citizenship requirement. Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Thursday that India, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been moving systematically with a Hindu supremacist agenda. The prime minister was referencing the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill passed by India’s upper house amid protests on Wednesday. The bill will let the Indian government grant citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants who entered India from three neighbouring countries before 2015 — but not if they are Muslim. Modi’s government — re-elected in May and under pressure over a slowing economy — says Muslims from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan are excluded from the legislation because they do not face discrimination in those countries. Taking to Twitter, Prime Minister I


By Dawn
December 13, 2019

Diplomacy, Economics

China, US in constant touch to resolve trade issues

China and the United States are in constant touch to resolve pending trade and economic issues, the Ministry of Commerce said on Thursday. The comment came ahead of Sunday’s US deadline for another scheduled round of tariff increases on Chinese imports worth almost $160 billion. If a trade deal is not struck by Sunday, computer monitors and toys will be among the Chinese export items likely to be affected. Gao Feng, a ministry spokesman, said the Customs Tariff Commission of the State Council has already worked out tariff exemptions on some soybean, pork and other products shipped from the US — the latest sign of tensions easing in the protracted trade conflict. The US seems to resort to brinkmanship by using a tariff deadline to pressure China in the ongoing trade talks for a phase one, preliminary deal, said Chen Wenling, chief economist at the China Center for International Economic Exchanges


By China Daily
December 13, 2019

Diplomacy, Economics

Japan: Koizumi offers no concrete plan on coal

The new environment minister needs to offer better ways to tackle climate change.  During a ministerial meeting of the U.N. climate summit in Madrid on Wednesday, Shinjiro Koizumi, the Environment Minister did not express concrete steps for reducing coal-fired thermal power generation. Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi did not express concrete steps for reducing coal-fired thermal power generation, for which construction of new plants is currently underway in Japan, during a ministerial meeting of the U.N. climate summit in Madrid on Wednesday. “I am afraid I cannot share new development on our coal policy today,” Koizumi said at the ongoing 25th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate


By The Japan News
December 13, 2019

Diplomacy, Economics

US warns N. Korea against ‘ill-advised’ action

North Korean threats unlikely to succeed in bringing the US to the table. A top US diplomat warned North Korea on Thursday against taking any “ill-advised” action in light of its veiled threats to resume nuclear and long-range missile tests. David Stilwell, US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, made the remark as North Korea has threatened to take a “new way” unless the US offers concessions in their stalled denuclearization negotiations before the end of the year. Washington has urged Pyongyang to stick to its commitment to cease nuclear and long-range missile tests, saying they would be count


By The Korea Herald
December 13, 2019

Diplomacy, Economics

Trump urges passage of defense bill with provision against troop drawdown in S. Korea

Trump has previously asked Korea to pay its fair share to keep US troops on the peninsula. US President Donald Trump on Wednesday urged Congress to pass a defense bill containing a provision restricting the drawdown of American troops in South Korea. On Monday, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees agreed on the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, which authorizes funding for the Department of Defense. According to the accompanying conference report, the new bill restricts the use of funds for removing troops from South Korea, an issue that has drawn intense scrutiny amid contentious cost-sharing negotiations between Seoul and Washington.


By The Korea Herald
December 12, 2019