SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday (Sep 16) congratulated Japan's new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, saying his appointment is "a testament to confidence" in his ability to steer the country through these difficult times.
In his letter, Mr Lee also said he looked forward to working closely with Mr Suga to strengthen relations between Singapore and Japan, and welcomed him to visit soon.
Mr Suga's appointment is an affirmation of his "many years of distinguished public service as Chief Cabinet Secretary", said Mr Lee in the letter.
Mr Lee also addressed the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, saying that Singapore and Japan "have demonstrated the resilience of our excellent relationship".
"We have worked closely to maintain supply chain connectivity, restore travel, and support the recovery of our economies," Mr Lee said, noting that next year will mark the 55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Japan.
"There is much more we can do together, including to tackle common challenges such as our ageing populations.
"Another area where we can collaborate is on infrastructure in third countries, which dovetails with Japan’s Partnership for Quality Infrastructure," Mr Lee added.
Mr Lee said that Japan continues to be a valued partner of ASEAN, with both countries sharing "a wide-ranging and substantive partnership across many areas, ranging from economic cooperation and disaster management to connectivity and capacity-building".
"I understand that one of your priorities will be digitalising your government," said Mr Lee in the letter, adding that the ASEAN Smart Cities Network could be a platform for collaboration.
He also said that Singapore looked forward to the establishment of the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases – a flagship of Japan-ASEAN cooperation.
"As we adapt to a post-COVID-19 world, Singapore and Japan should continue to support the rules-based international order," continued Mr Lee.
"Following the successful conclusion of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, our countries are working towards signing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership this November.
"Amidst the Fourth Industrial Revolution, there is also potential for us to deepen cooperation in new areas such as the digital economy.
"This will build upon our strong partnership in the World Trade Organisation, where we are co-convenors together with Australia of the Joint Statement Initiative on e-commerce," Mr Lee said.
SINGAPORE-JAPAN RELATIONS 'STRENGTHENED' UNDER SHINZO ABE
Mr Lee also wrote a valedictory letter to outgoing Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, saying he leaves office with "an impressive record".
"I was sorry to learn last month that you will be retiring from office," said Mr Lee as he wished Mr Abe - who had stepped down due to health concerns - a full recovery.
Mr Abe had achieved a historic milestone by becoming Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, during which time his signature reforms "earned recognition and acclaim", said Mr Lee.
He listed some of Mr Abe's reforms, including Abenomics, Womenomics and Society 5.0, and Japan’s momentous transition from the Heisei era to the Reiwa era.
"It has been my privilege to have worked with you for almost a decade, in your two terms in office," said Mr Lee, adding that Singapore-Japan relations "steadily strengthened" during Mr Abe's premiership.
"We completed a review of the Japan-Singapore New-Age Economic Partnership Agreement, which expanded our economic ties.
"The Japan Creative Centre in Singapore, which was mooted during your first term, continues to flourish," continued Mr Lee.
"We have had multiple exchanges of visits, including your official visits to Singapore in 2013 and 2014 and my official visit to Japan in 2016, when we celebrated 50 years of diplomatic relations."
Mr Lee added that the recent announcement on the resumption of business travel between Japan and Singapore would not have been possible without Mr Abe's leadership.
"I also appreciate the special effort you made to attend the State Funeral of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the Lying in State of former President Mr S R Nathan," said Mr Lee.
In the letter, Mr Lee highlighted that on the international stage, Mr Abe's active personal diplomacy, as well as initiatives such as the Proactive Contribution to Peace policy, "enhanced Japan’s international standing and engagement of the region".
Mr Lee also recalled Mr Abe's visit to all 10 ASEAN Member States in 2013 at the start of Mr Abe's second term.
He said that under Mr Abe's leadership, Japan made substantial contributions to initiatives such as the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity, the ASEAN Smart Cities Network, and the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.
He also said that Singapore is "grateful" for Mr Abe's "decisive leadership" to bring the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership to a successful conclusion, after the US withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
"You have been a good friend, both to Singapore and to me personally," said Mr Lee.
"I have enjoyed working with you to deepen the ties between our countries. You have strengthened our robust relationship, which I look forward to building on with your successor," he added.