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

Taiwan expresses regret over sentencing of H.K. democracy activists

The activists were sentenced to prison for organizing and participating in pro-democracy protests. Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) expressed regret yesterday after a court in Hong Kong handed down prison sentences of up to 16 months earlier that day on nine leaders of pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014. In a statement, the MAC, Taiwan’s top China policy-making body, said that the court ruling proved China’s “one country, two systems” mechanism does not respect and guarantee people’s political rights. It also called on the parties concerned to adhere to their commitment to the “one country, two systems” policy of governing Hong Kong and the promise to grant Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy as enshrined in the Basic Law. That is the only way to observe the rule of law and maintain Hong Kong’s prosperous development, the MAC said. A Hong Kong court handed down s


By Asia News Network
April 26, 2019

Diplomacy, Economics

S. Korean leader hopeful about 3rd Trump-Kim summit

Moon Jae-in meets with Asia News Network editors, says he is ready to facilitate next Trump – Kim summit. South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Thursday expressed confidence that an agreement to denuclearize the Koren Peninsula can still be achieved in a third summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jung-un. Moon told senior editors and executives of the Asia News Network (ANN)  that his government is ready to facilitate the next meeting between the US and North Korean leaders after the second summit in Hanoi in February ended without any agreement on nuclear disarmament and easing tensions in the Korean peninsula. Moon also told the ANN that the question of inviting the North Korean leader to the 30th Asean-Korean anniversary summit in November this year will have to be discussed with the me


By Philippine Daily Inquirer
April 26, 2019

Diplomacy, Economics

Putin calls for six-way talks for North Korea’s denuclearization

Putin calls for a return to six party talks, reestablishing China and Russia’s role in denuclearize talks. Russian President Vladimir Putin called Thursday for the resumption of six-way talks on North Korea’s denuclearization to move stalled negotiations forward. “If South Korea and the US can offer sufficient measures for (North Korea’s security) guarantee, the six-party talks may not be operated. But the guarantee mechanism from the South and the US does not seem to be sufficient,” he said. He was speaking at a press conference after a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for the first time at Far Eastern Federal University in Russia’s Pacific port city Vladivostok.


By The Korea Herald
April 26, 2019

Diplomacy, Economics

North Korea leader arrives in Russia ahead of Putin summit

Kim and Putin are due to meet today. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Wednesday arrived in Vladivostok, Russia, a day ahead of his first summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kim set out for Russia via his private train in the early hours of Wednesday and arrived in the Russian border city of Khasan at about 10:40 a.m., before moving on to Vladivostok, where he arrived some six hours later. In an interview with Russian media after a welcome ceremony in Khasan, Kim hinted at strengthening cooperation with Moscow in regional security issues. “I believe (the summit) will be an opportunity for very beneficial conversation in jointly managing and controlling regional issues,” Kim said in the interview.


By The Korea Herald
April 25, 2019

Diplomacy, Economics

China showcases carrier strike group capabilities at fleet review

China has flexed its muscles before in the South China Sea. China displayed its military development toward assembling its version of a carrier strike group during a naval parade in Qingdao, China, on Tuesday. The international fleet review marking the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the People’s Liberation Army Navy showcased Chinese naval vessels such as China’s own aircraft carrier and state-of-the-art destroyers. It is certain that the Chinese navy, which aims to exclude the U.S. military from the western Pacific Ocean to gain maritime hegemony, will increase provocative maritime maneuvers with its aircraft carrier Besides China, Japan was one of the 13 countries participating in the naval review. The crew members and others on these countries’ vessels saluted Chinese President Xi Jinping, who also heads the PLA, standing on the deck of a Chinese d


By The Japan News
April 25, 2019

Diplomacy, Economics

Iran sanctions alarm Korean petrochemical sector

Korea, major player in crude oil market, seeking alternative countries would drive up costs. As the US is set to end sanction exemptions for countries buying oil from Iran, South Korean petrochemical companies are anticipated to struggle in having to reduce their Iranian oil supplies. From May 2, eight nations, including Korea, Japan, China and India, will be banned from buying oil from Iran as the US government’s 180-day waiver ends. Iran is the fifth-largest exporter of crude oil to Korea, following Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the US and Iraq. Imports of crude oil from Iran to Korea accounted for 8.6 percent of total imported crude oil in February, according to Korea National Oil Corp. “We were a bit shocked. We didn’t expect a complete ban. Every company (affected) will be busy securing condensate, which is not abundant in the market,” said an anonymous official of a local firm in the petroc


By The Korea Herald
April 24, 2019