Japan, Singapore agree to strengthen economic cooperation

Japan and Singapore agreed Friday to strengthen economic cooperation, confirming plans to jointly promote the export of infrastructure systems to other countries.

During a meeting in Singapore, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the city state's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also confirmed plans to coordinate moves in negotiating for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement and another large free trade bloc known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which encompasses East Asia.

The two leaders also agreed to strengthen cooperation between the two countries' defense forces, especially in rear-area assistance in cases of antidisaster and rescue operations, Abe said at a joint news conference after their talks.

Lee said the two leaders also exchanged views on "overlapping territorial disputes," an apparent reference to issues stemming from China's territorial claims in regional waters.

"I expressed the hope that the countries concerned would manage these differences peacefully and in accordance with international law...But I also expressed the hope that issues should not affect the overall stability of the region," the Singaporean leader said.

"We all benefit from a stable Asia," he added.

The two leaders later agreed that territorial disputes over the South China Sea should be resolved peacefully, Japanese officials said.

Abe also sought Lee's understanding over the discussion in Japan about constitutional changes and whether Japan should be able to exercise its right to collective self-defense.

Abe's reference to the constitutional issues apparently reflects the concern in other Asian countries over his government's purported tilt to the right on defense and wartime history issues.

On constitutional changes, Abe said such principles as pacifism, the sovereignty of the people and basic human rights would be the precondition for any such change, adding that discussions are now "deepening" about what kind of constitution best suits today's Japan, according to the officials.

Japan will also consider whether to lift its self-imposed ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense "from the viewpoint of ensuring safety for Japan and contributing to the Japan-U.S. alliance, and regional peace and stability," Abe was quoted as telling Lee.

On the TPP negotiations, which Japan officially joined earlier this week, Lee said Singapore, one of the Pacific-rim countries already in the talks, welcomes Japan's participation.

Abe said that by promoting free trade arrangements with Southeast Asian countries, Japan wishes to create trade and investment rules with them.

Apparently with China in mind, the Japanese leader also noted that Tokyo intends to strengthen ties with countries that share with it fundamental values, such as the rule of law, human rights and freedom.

Singapore was the second leg of Abe's three-nation tour of Southeast Asia, aimed at deepening Japan-ASEAN ties, in part to counter China and its assertiveness in regional waters.

Abe also met with U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden in Singapore, and gave a speech on his key economic policies later in the day as part of the "Singapore Lecture" series.

Abe, who held talks with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak in that country's administrative capital on Thursday, travelled to Manila later Friday for talks with Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Saturday.