October 22, 2021

55th anniversary of Singapore-Japan relations

Kotaro Tamura, Former Advisor to Premier Shinzo Abe, shares his views on how policy makers and business leaders from both countries leverage the strong bi-lateral ties to navigate through these volatile times.

Qinthara Fasya | 13 July 2021

Singapore-Japan relations are celebrating their 55th anniversary this year. This long-standing relationship, which includes both countries’ involvement in ASEAN+3, opens up a plethora of business and political prospects across these borders. Changes in trade patterns as a result of digitalization, according to Singaporean Minister Indranee Rajah, clear the opportunity for the regional grouping to increase infrastructure expenditures as it aspires to remain a vital component of the global value chain.

Such infrastructural development, in particular, will benefit trade relations between Japan and Singapore, as Japanese officials want to capitalize on Asia’s vibrancy to improve the Japanese economy. Similarly, Singaporean companies interested in entering the Japanese market can take advantage of the current expansion opportunities. DigitalCFO Asia spoke with Kotaro Tamura, Former Senator and Parliamentary Secretary in charge of Economic and Fiscal Policy, Japan, to learn more about how countries can leverage strong bi-lateral ties to get through these tough economic times. 


Kotaro’s experience as a consultant to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Kotaro Tamura was in a position to provide direct fiscal and economic policy advice to the Premier from 2006-2007. Tamura served as head of Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism during his public career. In the Upper House, he was in charge of the Official Development Aid program for emerging nations.

During his term, Kotaro’s major goal was to make Japan’s economy more global and to form Japan’s own sovereign wealth fund. With the amount of money Japan possesses, it is critical to mobilize these funds. Kotaro was the driving force behind changes to the Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF) that allowed for the hiring of a professional CIO and CFO as well as a change in portfolio and fund management style.

Kotaro is adamant that, in the face of population decline and an aging population, Japan’s pension funds must be mobilized in order to remain sustainable and improve returns by taking appropriate risks. After his 1 year tenure as Senator and Parliamentary Secretary in charge of Economic and Fiscal Policy, Kotaro continues his mission as a parliamentarian to establish the sovereign wealth fund. 


Covid-19 Outbreak 

Kotaro experienced Covid-19 in both countries, spending his time in Japan at the very beginning of the pandemic, and in Singapore during the rest of the pandemic evolution. 

“Singapore is one of the best countries that can manage the Covid-19 situation very well, so I really respect and want to praise the Singaporean government for that.”

Katoro Tamura

In the case of Japan, he observes that it is particularly difficult since, unlike Singapore, the Japanese government is unable to use force against its population according to the Japanese constitution. The Japanese government could only rely on the discipline of its citizens to ask and advise Japanese citizens on staying at home as much as possible. Kotaro notes that the Singapore government has the authority to make laws and decisions overnight such as border closures whereas the Japanese government would take a period of months to carry out similar laws.

“It took the Japanese government 2-3 months to approve a Covid-19 cash handout to its citizens, whereas it was instantaneous when Singapore announced its cash handout to Singaporeans. This is because Singapore has a centralized ID system that connects the government to Singaporean citizens directly. That’s the difference between the two countries,” he said.

Japanese citizens try to protect themselves from the Covid-19 virus through their own discipline, which is evident in their daily low numbers – as compared to other G7 countries. 

However, Japan is experiencing the largest bankruptcy in the F&B industry, which is much worse than the last global financial crisis. Due to these changes, the Japanese government is more open to implementing digitization in organizations – in which these organizations have benefitted and are growing rapidly. 


What can Politicians and Corporate Leaders do to ensure traditional businesses keep up with the region’s technological adoption and progress

Kotaro believes that politicians and corporate leaders need to open up their markets to more young people and foreigners in the near future. This is a challenge for Japan as it is still a seniority system-driven country with a single race and single language country. Having more diversity, according to Kotaro, would help drive significant changes in traditional businesses that are easing into technological adoption.

“Young people are good at new technologies and they can handle it while older people may have some difficulties to adapt to it but it is not impossible. Having the guidance of these younger ones would bring organizations to greater heights.”

Kotaro Tamura

Moving into a post-pandemic world, more foreign talents from countries such as Singapore, U.S. and India should be welcomed to work in Japan and help Japanese countries to transform. With Japan being a big frontier, these foreign talents could implement more technologies into the society. 

Kotaro sees the necessity for Japanese politicians to inspire young people and foreign talent to help alter society and businesses, as well as present organization management to embrace greater diversity into their team, in order to ease the transition into digitalization. 


As an adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore and a senior advisor to the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai, Kotaro Tamura will be having a virtual course on 2 – 6 August 2021. Titled ‘Insights into Regional Politics, Economics and Culture for Japanese Business Leaders and Policymakers’, the course will delve into how various issues such as the intensifying US-China conflict, technological adoption and climate change will impact Asian geopolitics and geoeconomics, and how Japanese business/political leaders can navigate them to seize opportunities. (Registration closes on 31 July 2021)