Ex-adviser to Abe sees opportunities for Japan in Singapore's openness and diversity

Former Japanese politician Kotaro Tamura (centre) at the National University of Singapore, in a photo taken before the onset of Covid-19. - KOTARO TAMURA

TOKYO (The Straits Times/ANN): Singapore, with its unique place in the world in its understanding of both Western and Eastern cultures, can play a key role in helping countries navigate tensions between the United States and China, a former Japanese politician has said.

This will be important as the world traverses the geopolitical and economic minefield of expanding Chinese influence amid doubts over whether US foreign policy will shift course under the next president, Kotaro Tamura told The Straits Times recently.

Tamura, 57, is a former elected lawmaker with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and had served as fiscal and economic adviser to then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe from 2006 to 2007.

He observed that many countries are trying to strike a difficult balance between geopolitics and business, noting the reliance of major democracies worldwide on China's surging economic might, even as the US remains inward-looking on trade with its faltering domestic growth.

"Singapore can be a good gateway for countries to do business with China," he said in a Zoom interview, noting how global companies can benefit from Singapore's knowledge of "more than just the mindset, but the way of thinking and customs of mainland Chinese".

Above that, Singapore is also a good entry point into South-east Asia, where ageing economies like Japan's can tap into a youthful population, he added.

Tamura is now an adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, where he runs courses for Japanese business leaders and policymakers on regional politics, economics and culture.

More than 450 participants have taken part, including civil servants from Japan's foreign, finance and economy ministries, as well as businesses such as Uniqlo owner Fast Retailing, discount chain store Don Quijote, property developer Mori Building, food manufacturer Ajinomoto and cosmetics giant Shiseido.

The US-China conflict, as well as bilateral opportunities between Singapore and Japan as the two countries mark their 55th year of diplomatic ties, will be key themes in the 18th run of the course this August, to be held fully online owing to Covid-19.

Tamura said that while Japan seems to have taken a more hawkish line towards China of late, the LDP itself is split on its approach towards China.

Many in the LDP favour a pro-China or a moderate approach, he said, including the faction led by party secretary-general Toshihiro Nikai, which was Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's main backer behind his election as LDP president last year.

But Tamura added that the largest faction is now the Hosoda faction, which counts Abe among its members, and "the mainstream thinking now in the LDP is to see China as a competitor".

Abe is a founding member of a new political group set up to study semiconductors - and by extension the security of the Taiwan Strait, with Taiwan being a dominant global supplier of chips. The group does not include anyone from Nikai's faction.

This, Tamura suggested, presents a tug of war for Suga to manage intra-party factional interests - and that of the wider business community - as he tries to win cross-faction support in a pivotal election year.

Suga is expected to dissolve the Lower House for a general election in September in the hopes of winning a strong public mandate before he faces an internal vote for the LDP presidential election in the same month.

Tamura believes that Suga, despite his dwindling public support, has a good chance to win - "unless something catastrophic happens during or after the Olympics" - due to the fragmented opposition.

Tamura added that Japan can work closely with Singapore to take on their common challenge of an ageing population and low fertility rate.

Japan's strengths lie in developing technology and medical treatment for the elderly, he said, citing the drug for Alzheimer's Disease developed by pharmaceutical firm Eisai with US partner Biogen that was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration this month.

But Singapore can offer lessons on accepting diversity, given its ethnic composition and open immigration policies, as well as flexibility in how it has developed upgrading programmes such as SkillsFuture to give careers a second wind.

"Covid-19 has accelerated a lot of transformation in Japan," Tamura said, noting trends such as an increased uptake in telework and job-hopping. "But to properly mobilise this change, it must better connect with other parts of the world." - The Straits Times/Asia News Network

Article type: metered
User Type: anonymous web
User Status:
Campaign ID: 46
Cxense type: free
User access status: 3
Join our Telegram channel to get our Evening Alerts and breaking news highlights

Singapore , Japan , US , business , advisor , Kotaro Tamura


Next In Aseanplus News

Asean News Headlines at 10pm on Monday (July 26)
129 new locally transmitted Covid-19 cases in Singapore, including 61 linked to Jurong Fishery Port
Indonesia reports 28,228 newly-confirmed Covid19 cases, 1,487 new deaths as govt announce new virus measures
Thailand's Covid-19 cases are soaring and current total surpasses 500,000 mark; death toll now at 4,146
Weightlifter Diaz makes history for Philippines at Olympics - first to win gold at Games for her country
Philippines Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire anxious as Covid-19 cases soaring again; total above 1.55 million
Vietnam PM pledges reform and development as country's Covid-19 cases continue to soar; 7,882 new cases on Monday (July 26)
Myanmar's junta govt imports more liquid oxygen, oxygen concentrators and face masks for people
US, China still disagree on way forward after tense talks in the city of Tianjin
Singapore eyes starting quarantine-free travel in September; ease measures for vaccinated people

Stories You'll Enjoy