Japan confers prestigious award on S'pore diplomat

In his 40-year diplomatic career, veteran Singaporean diplomat Chew Tai Soo, 75, has served numerous roles in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), but is best remembered in Japan as a key figure in building bilateral economic ties.

He was recognised by the current Japanese Ambassador to Singapore Kenji Shinoda as the "grandfather" of the Japan-Singapore Economic Partnership Agreement (JSEPA) on Tuesday.

The pact, signed in 2002, was Japan's first bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) and Singa- pore's first with a major developed nation.

Noting this year marks the 50th anniversary of Japan-Singapore diplomatic relations, Ambassador Shinoda said: "Our two countries have enjoyed friendly and superb bilateral relations and partnership for decades and a lot of the credit goes to people like ambassador Chew who set a high value on our ties and worked constantly to nourish the relations even further."

He was speaking at a ceremony in his residence to present Mr Chew with the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star, a prestigious national decoration conferred by the Japanese Emperor on individuals who have made outstanding contributions to Japan in areas such as politics, culture and academia.

Mr Chew was first posted to Japan as First Secretary at the Singapore Embassy in Tokyo in 1974, and was later consul-general in Osaka. He was Singapore's ambassador to Japan from 1998 to 2004, and has cumulatively spent about 10 years in Japan.

During the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, Mr Chew was appointed by the Singapore Government as the coordinator of Singapore's aid and relief efforts to help the Japanese.

Under his administration, Singapore sent rescue parties and relief goods as well as over $40 million in publicly-sourced donations through the Singapore Red Cross and other organisations, one of the largest amounts ever raised by Singapore for disaster relief.

In a speech at the ceremony, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said Mr Chew had negotiated the JSEPA in 2002, a time when bilateral FTAs were "not fashionable" and the "conventional wisdom" was to pursue multilateral agreements.

"The JSEPA, accounting for our strong trade and investment links, is the bedrock of our current close economic cooperation," he said.

"We have ambassador Chew to thank for our strong bonds, or kizuna, that our countries now share. He is a most worthy and deserving recipient of this award."

Mr Chew retired from the MFA last year. He has also served as MFA's deputy secretary; permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva and New York; and ambassador to France. Other recent recipients of notable Japanese honours include Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

This article was first published on Jun 22, 2016.
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