His Excellency Mr Kenji Shinoda, Ambassador of Japan to Singapore,

Dr Izumi Walker, Chairperson of Collaboration Across Borders: Singapore 2017 Organising Committee,

Associate Professor Loy Hui Chieh, Vice Dean of External Relations and Student Life at Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. I am very happy to be back here at the Japanese Association today with all of you. Ambassador Mr Kenji Shinoda and I know each other really well and he works really hard to promote bilateral relations between Singapore and Japan. Last year, when Mr Kenji Shinoda was first posted here, we had many opportunities to meet each other during different events commemorating 50 years of bilateral ties between Singapore and Japan.

2. Congratulations to the Japanese Language Programme of the Centre of Language Studies at the National University of Singapore, and the Japanese Language Teachers' Association in Singapore, on the opening of the 2nd Collaboration Across Borders: Singapore 2017, also known as CABSG2017.

3. A warm welcome too to the many representatives from Japan, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. We look forward to you sharing your valuable ideas and insights during this conference.

Affirming Singapore's Strong Bilateral Ties with Japan

4. CABSG2017 is yet another testimony of Singapore's strong bilateral ties with Japan. Last year, Singapore and Japan celebrated the 50th anniversary of our diplomatic relations, also known as SJ50.

5. Over the past 50 years, our two countries have built strong relationships economically, politically, and culturally. In 2015, Japan was Singapore's second largest foreign investor, and Singapore was Japan's largest Asian foreign investor.1 There are also frequent exchanges between our political leaders. My colleague at the Ministry of Education, Minister Ong Ye Kung, just came back from a trip to Japan at the invitation of the Japanese Government. I am also delighted to hear from Ambassador Mr Kenji Shinoda that 360,000 Singaporeans visited Japan last year and this number is likely to increase by ten percent this year to about 400,000.

Language as a Key to More Opportunities

6. Many of you will agree that language is important in helping us understand and also appreciate a culture. This belief undergirds Singapore's bilingual education policy, where students study their Mother Tongue language on top of the English language. Our Mother Tongue languages strengthen our cultural identity, and help us stay connected to our ethnic communities. At the same time, they offer us another cultural lens and perspective to better navigate the global economic environment.

7. The learning of the Japanese language is thus a significant step towards understanding Japan's history and its people. The large and increasing number of Singaporeans who are learning the Japanese language, like many of you here, reflects Singaporeans' interest in the Japanese culture.

8. In recognition of the many benefits of learning a foreign language, the Ministry of Education established a Language Centre in 1978 to provide opportunities for students to learn a third language. We started out with two languages when the Centre first opened, and Japanese was one of them. That is the importance we attach to learning Japanese as a third language for our students. Today, the Centre offers seven languages.2

9. The Japanese language is also offered at almost all of our Post-Secondary Education Institutions; four of our five polytechnics and five Autonomous Universities conduct Japanese language classes3. Many private institutions and community centres also run Japanese classes for hundreds of students of all ages, including an increasing number of senior citizens who have responded to the Government's call to embrace lifelong learning. Around 20,000 Singaporeans are now learning the Japanese language annually.

Cultural Understanding � Catalyst for Collaboration

10. For many students, Japan's strong economy and global corporate footprint present an additional practical benefit to learning the language. In 2016, Japan's net outward Foreign Direct Investment reached a record high of $169.9 billion. Japan is � and will continue to be for many years to come � one of the world's largest economies, and Asia's second largest economy.

11. I understand from the organisers that Japanese companies are increasingly realising the value of hiring Japanese-speaking South East Asian nationals, including Singaporeans, for both their Japan headquarters, as well as subsidiaries in Singapore.

12. This is a positive move, and will allow Japanese companies to network, understand and explore business linkages with the rapidly expanding South East Asian market, especially with the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). This is a win-win situation as Singaporeans will also be able to benefit from more employment opportunities, right here at our doorstep.

13. Mastery of the language alone is not enough to help one gain employment opportunities in a Japanese company, or Japan. Socio-cultural knowledge, intercultural competencies, and a good understanding of the corporate culture in Japan are equally important. These are soft skills that cannot simply be learned from books or the Internet; one needs to be immersed in the Japanese culture, directly interact with the Japanese people and, experience their way of life. I hope to see our young Singaporeans make use Singapore's advantage as a cosmopolitan society and act as a universal adaptor, adapting effectively and efficiently to socio-cultural differences. We are counting on you, the young Singaporeans, to take us towards SJ100.

14. I am happy to see that various organisations have stepped up to promote such cross-cultural opportunities. One of them is the JENESYS Programme, which stands for Japan-East Asia Network of Exchange for Students and Youths. JENESYS aims to promote mutual understanding through exchange programmes between Japanese youths and students from other East Asian countries. An important part of the programme allows for overseas students to travel to the different prefectures in Japan to learn about the local industries as well as experience traditional Japanese culture through home-stays and interactions with the local community.

15. Platforms such as the CABSG2017 here today also play a critical role in improving collaboration and mutual understanding. You create opportunities by bringing together government, education practitioners, industry, and students from different countries in discussions and encourage the cross-fertilisation of ideas. A big thank you to you, for making this happen.

16. I am very glad to know that many Japanese companies, some of which are represented here today, have opened up job and internship opportunities for Singapore students. On behalf of MTI and MOE, I thank you for providing these opportunities.

Conclusion

17. I would like to commend the many students here who have put in a lot of hard work and effort to learn the Japanese language on your own accord, as well as the Japanese language teachers who have been very dedicated in supporting their students' learning. Many thanks to the NUS Centre for Language Studies for actively contributing to best practices in foreign language learning and teaching, and allowing students to build up their language proficiency in an effective but also fun and enjoyable manner.

18. I am sure that this conference will offer valuable insights for participants, and I encourage all of you to actively join in the Panel Discussion later. While the conference focuses on the benefits of learning the Japanese language, I hope we will not forget the importance of cultivating mutual understanding between different cultures and cross-border collaborations.

19. Thank you.

Source: Ministry of Education, Singapore