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Panel Presentation by Associate Professor Simon Tay, Chairman, SIIA, at the 16th Japan-Singapore Symposium Public Forum, 14 March 2023

Prof. Simon Tay @ JSS 2023

20 Mar Panel Presentation by Associate Professor Simon Tay, Chairman, SIIA, at the 16th Japan-Singapore Symposium Public Forum, 14 March 2023

1          Sharing significant common interests, Japan and Singapore have sustained long-established and robust partnership which is important in a volatile world.


2          Global and regional conditions have shifted sharply in the past few years and will bear new consideration. Against the backdrop of countries pursuing evolving foreign policy calculi, ASEAN will see tectonic shifts in two main areas of political economy and political security context.


Political Economy and International Rules-based Order

3          Japan and Singapore are concerned about the centrifugal forces surrounding Ukraine and the Sino-American conflict exerting stresses and intensifying the risks of a breakdown in the international rules-based order. Both countries have worked alongside each other in upholding this fracturing order. One of Japan’s important contributions is its leadership in forging the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) alongside Singapore and others as a high-quality Free-Trade Agreement in the absence of the U.S. Similarly, both countries welcome and actively participate in the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) to seek a renewed engagement with the U.S.


4          But subtle bilateral differences exist, as Singapore is also championing other inclusive routes to regional and global integration. One is the ASEAN-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). In parallel to the CPTPP, Singapore hopes to work with Japan to make a commensurate effort to RCEP, which includes all key partners in Northeast Asia and ASEAN.


5          Singapore is advancing Digital and Green Economy Agreements on a bilateral or minilateral basis to power a comprehensive post-COVID recovery. They have been well received by many partners including South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, Australia and the UK. It is Singapore’s hope that Japan will be open to dialogue and consider one or both of such agreements going forward.


6          Several efforts involving Japan in the green economy include Article 6 Implementation Partnership and the PaSTI-Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund developed at COP27. Singapore celebrates these important new cross-cutting elements and supports further development and linking of green economies back to trade agreements towards deeper integration. Having signed a Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) with Japan in October on Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and energy transitions, Singapore looks forward to developing these joint efforts in catalysing energy transition across ASEAN which will further Japan-Singapore trade relationship.


7          Singapore and Japan are pathfinding to build norms and rules particularly in emerging fields including green energy, decarbonisation and digital space. Cooperation with Japan is consequential to supplement region-wide efforts, as evident in Japan’s Asia Zero Emissions Community (AZEC).


Changing Political Security Context

8          Japan and Singapore share multifarious security priorities but have one key divergence amid a changing political security context: whereas Japan is a stalwart U.S. ally, Singapore is only a strategic partner to the U.S. The U.S.-Japan alliance could raise questions about Japan’s commitment to a rules-based order and widen the divergence between Singapore and Japan, unless we manage our mutual understanding through regular dialogues.


9          The tenor of difference is not codified in black-and-white treaties but could emerge and snowball over the coming years from, for instance, Japan’s focus on a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” (FOIP) – which is slightly in tension with the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP). In addition, Japan’s participation in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, NATO’s Asia Pacific Four, and large-scale military exercises with America are activities well-aligned with Japan’s concerns and interests, but could alienate some ASEAN countries, which are not represented in the groupings.


10        Japan enjoys high levels of trust across ASEAN, especially among elite policymakers. It will hand Japan an advantage in pursuing regional cooperation. Nonetheless, Japan should monitor the broader public opinion that could be susceptible to state-sponsored manipulation and misinformation by other countries.


11        Notwithstanding Japan’s emphasis on deterrence capability in its new National Security Strategy, stronger deterrence and provocation have a line to be drawn between them. Making such a distinction is important in the region, where other stakeholders may be more sensitive to the trust that Singapore and ASEAN have given to Japan.


Further Cooperation

15        Singapore and Japan should cooperate to strengthen the “ASEAN Centrality” principle. A small but concrete step in this regard is capacity building to prepare Timor-Leste fully for its

accession to ASEAN.


16        In addition, both countries should review and upgrade the Japan-Singapore Economic Partnership Agreement (JSEPA) in the context of other agreements, deeper Japan-ASEAN engagement and the changes in the rules-based order. Subsequent agreements could extend cooperation to other concrete areas including the digital and green economy, and potentially facilitate a strategic dialogue for greater understanding.