TOKYO: Japan is integral to the future of Asia, said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday.
On the back of renewed optimism in the Japanese economy, Mr Lee called on Japan to deepen its strategic engagement with Southeast Asia and the wider region.
Mr Lee was speaking to political and business leaders at a conference on 'The Future of Asia', organised by Nikkei, in Tokyo on Thursday.
On the economic front, the Prime Minister pointed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as a step towards a free trade in the Asia-Pacific.
Mr Lee said Japan's membership in the TPP is a big plus because of the sheer importance of the Japanese economy which is the third largest in the world.
On the political front, Mr Lee touched on Japan's relations with China, which is currently strained because of the territorial dispute over the islands in the East China Sea, which Japan calls the Senkakus and China calls the Diaoyus.
"We hope that both sides exercise restraint, maintain contacts and gradually de-escalate the situation. I therefore welcome Mr Abe's commitment to keep the door open for dialogue, and not close down all aspects of the bilateral relationship because of this single issue," said Mr Lee.
Mr Lee said both Japan and China have wider interests at stake.
He added how China deals with the bilateral frictions shapes how other countries see its rise, and whether they will accept China as a benign power which interacts with other countries, big or small, on the basis of equality and mutual respect.
Japan, he noted, gains from a constructive, peaceful and cooperative relationship with its most important neighbour.
Mr Lee said a major shift in the global balance is taking place with the rise of China.
He said countries are closely watching how China exercises its rising power.
He added by demonstrating its benign purposes through its actions and restraint, China will reassure other countries and enhance its own security.
In his speech, Mr Lee also spoke on the US-China relationship which he described as the most important bilateral relationship for Asia and the world.
"There are naturally some issues between the US and China, such as over trade, cyber-espionage, or human rights. Their populations are also concerned about possible threats that the other poses. Americans worry that China will take away their jobs and challenge the US' position as the sole superpower.
"Some Chinese suspect the US of manoeuvring to check China's rise, and want to assert China's rights as the country gains influence. Leaders on both sides must manage such pressures and work together on common problems," he said.
He said both sides need to institutionalise exchanges to build strategic trust, promote transparency to prevent misunderstandings, and develop clear rules of engagement to avoid incidents.
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