TOKYO – When Singapore’s former president S R Nathan died in 2016, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the first foreign leader to personally pay his respects at the state funeral.
He said then that Japan would never forget the kindness of Mr Nathan, who was fluent in Japanese and in 2009 had become the first foreign head of state to visit Hiroshima to meet atomic bomb survivors.
In 2015, Mr Abe had also attended the state funeral of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, to whom he paid his highest tribute for his “incomparable leadership and unparalleled insights”.
In his testimonial, Mr Abe credited Mr Lee for playing “a key role not only in achieving Singapore’s remarkable economic growth and prosperity, but also in securing peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region and the world”.
Japan also posthumously conferred its highest honour for foreign dignitaries – the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers – on Mr Lee.
Both Japan and Singapore share ideals that have been advanced under Mr Abe’s leadership since he took office in December 2012.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said after Mr Abe’s resignation last month that he has worked very well with Mr Abe, under whose leadership bilateral ties have deepened.
He specifically singled out Mr Abe’s role in resurrecting the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact after the withdrawal of the United States. Mr Abe replied on Twitter that he was “profoundly grateful” to have been able to work with PM Lee to grow bilateral ties.
It had been in Singapore where, at the high-level Shangri-La security dialogue in 2014, Mr Abe elaborated on Japan’s plan for “proactive contribution to peace”.
The strategy enables Japan’s Self-Defence Forces to go to the aid of friendly nations under attack in the name of “collective self-defence”.
Mr Abe stressed Japan’s commitment to ensuring rule of law and the freedom of navigation in the same speech.
To that end, Japan has taken part in recent joint naval patrols through the South China Sea with countries such as the US, Britain and India.
Defence ties with Singapore have also grown in recent years, with Japan’s largest Izumo-class helicopter destroyers having made port calls in the Republic.