Transcript of PM Lee Hsien Loong’s remarks at the media wrap-up interview in Japan on Friday, 27 May 2022. PM Lee was on a working visit to Japan from 24 to 27 May 2022.
CNA: You had a meeting with Prime Minister Kishida. It was the first face-to-face meeting I believe. Can you give us some of the key areas you have covered during your discussion with Prime Minister Kishida?
PM Lee Hsien Loong: (This is the first time I’ve met him) since he took over as Prime Minister. I had met him several times before.
We talked about bilateral cooperation and the MOU which we signed and exchanged. We talked about cooperation within the IPEF work, which both Singapore and Japan participated in, and which President Biden launched on Monday. We talked about broader developments in the world, trade of course, and US-China relations. It was a good discussion and we had a very lively exchange and I hope that before long I will be able to invite Prime Minister Kishida to Singapore and we can continue the conversation.
CNA: I would like to ask a follow-up question on IPEF. China thinks IPEF is a divisive tactic by the United States, and notably China is not a member of either. Would you feel that such claims are justified and how should Singapore, being a member of IPEF, and the region, respond?
PM Lee: As I said in my Nikkei speech, economic engagement between different countries in the region is something which is very much to be encouraged. And in particular, economic engagement between the US and the region, and between China and the region, are both very much to be encouraged. That is why Singapore supports the Belt and Road Initiative and that is why we are also member group of friends of the Global Development Initiative, which the Chinese have put forward and at the same time, we have cooperation arrangements with the United States. For example, Singapore and the US have an FTA and now the US has proposed the IPEF and we have decided to participate in the IPEF. So it is not mutually exclusive. The IPEF is stated as to promote economic cooperation. Its membership is meant to be inclusive, and you will meet the criteria while you can be considered for membership, so I do not see that the two are mutually exclusive or just because one side is deepening its cooperation that means it is bad for the other side.
CNA: I would like to ask you about the supply chain. With countries starting to raise export barriers, export bans of goods and supply, the supply chain is still in a mess. How will Singapore respond, for example bring it up in the WTO or how should the region respond?
PM Lee: It is regrettable that these things happen, but I suppose it is not so surprising that it happens. It is like what took place in the early days of the pandemic, when masks were in short supply, when PPEs were in short supply, and countries scramble to secure (and) meet their own needs and to interdict and requisition supplies which will be manufactured in their own country, or sometimes which were even transiting in their own country. And right now, the food supply chains are being disrupted because of (the) Ukrainian war, and also inflation is high. So governments are under pressure and sometimes they take unconventional measures. For example, interdicting exports of products, and several governments have done this. It is regrettable as a consumer country which imports food, we are adversely impacted. You can seek redress at the WTO if it fits the rules or if the actions have violated the rules, but there will be a long process and immediate urgency is the secure supply of food. And actually, the answer to that, is not what we do now, but what we have been doing now for several years, which has been to build up our buffer stocks and resiliency and diversify our sources. So that (when) any single source is interrupted, we are not unduly affected and if you can't buy chicken from one place, you can buy from other countries. This time it is chicken, next time it may be something else. We have to be prepared for this. It is a very unsettled world ad inflation is a problem, cost of living is a problem but in the scheme of things, many more disruptive things can happen than just some price adjustments. And we are seeing some of that now.
The Straits Times: In your speech yesterday, you noted that Japan should consider how to come to terms with its past so as to make a greater contribution to regional security cooperation. I was hoping that you could elaborate on that. What kind of role do you see Japan being able to play in security and other concerns that Japan's neighbours, China, Russia and North Korea might react to these efforts?
PM Lee: I think every country in the region is reassessing their defence posture (and)their defence spending strategy, and Japan of course, is doing that too. And they have been gradually progressively building up their capabilities and I think, also gradually inching up their defence spending over the years. As I said in my speech, security is not just an individual country, because they will each do what we are trying to do to make ourselves safe. Collectively, we may all make others feel unsafe, and then we may all end up worse off. So we also have to work together with other countries to secure collective security and in Japan’s case, it is particularly sensitive because of the war history. But with the passage of time, with the passing of generations, (and) in a new strategic situation, I think (it is) imperative to play a greater role in regional security for Japan, is growing and the best way they can fulfil that, is by coming to terms and putting to rest the historical issues which have been open for a long time.
How is that done? It depends on the bilateral relations with individual countries and Japan’s overall posture in its ability to demonstrate it is adding value to the regional security situation. I think that is what they do it by themselves, that is what they do bilaterally - exercises, training exchanges, visits, which I think they have already started doing and from time to time, we have been receiving visits from Japanese warships which are passing through Singapore.
There is also participation in regional defence and security dialogues and arrangements, Japan participates in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) plus. These are ASEAN discussion mechanisms to talk about issues in the region. Of course, they have a very important US-Japan Security Alliance, which is the foundation stone for their defence and security. So I think these steps will happen. With some countries you can move further than others. In Southeast Asia, I think that their relationships are progressing. In Northeast Asia with Japan, Korea is a difficult relationship. Japan with China is an even more difficult relationship but nevertheless I think the Japanese do understand that these are permanently their neighbours and they need to do their best and they will do their best to try to have a working relationship coexisting with them.
Lianhe Zaobao: The last time you were here was in 2019, was before COVID. This time, do you see any changes? For example, the precautions (at) the restaurant. My readers are very excited to know when Japan is going to fully open. Can you share if PM spoke to PM Kishida about this?
PM Lee: The Japanese are very conscientious. I meet them, they come masked and we take pictures they take the masks off. Some of them actually are more comfortable to keep their masks on even for the photographs and the conversation but you will notice that even outdoors, they are masked up and certainly indoors.
So they are very, very conscientious and it is a good habit and I think it is a long-standing instinct. Because even before COVID, it has always been the practice in Japan (that) if you are sick, you go out with a mask and protect other people from yourself. And with COVID, when government encouraged everybody to wear masks, and they did so. There is no compulsion, but there is a lot of social expectation. And I think that these are some of the instincts which we should pick up, even after COVID when masks are no longer essential (or) no longer compulsory outdoors, I hope that people will be conscious of it and if you are not well, please put on a mask to go outdoors. Now that we have all done it and we have gotten used to it, it does not feel so strange anymore.
As for tourism, I hope that the Japanese will open up soon. They are starting up with some trial (with) groups of tourists in June. The initial groups are very small. I think they are opening up the four countries on group tours, (with a) strictly control it itinerary. And altogether the four countries make up 50 tourists. It is just a very tiny experiment, but I am quite sure after that, as they work out their procedures, they will open up further. I think there are also political considerations because the Japanese population has been very sensitive about COVID cases going up. And there have been times during the last two years when they encourage domestic tourism and that provoke some spread of the virus within the country. And so, to now open up again they have to be mindful not to cause people to be concerned. I hope that they will act before (long).
In fact, yesterday when I met Prime Minister Kishida, I told him there are many Singaporeans who used to visit Japan regularly and are very anxious to come back to Japan again. For the food, for their skiing, for the scenery, for the religious tourism to the Buddhist sites. We hope that you will open up, and once you do, I am sure that flights will be full. I think he heard so I hope that it takes place soon. There is an upper house election which is taking place in July. Which I am sure, they would not want to make any, precipitate moves, before that. But after that, if the COVID situation is stable, I think there is a good chance that we will be able to resume the flow.
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