Singaporean Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan. — VNA/VNS Photo Dương Giang
SINGAPORE — Singaporean Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan spoke with the Vietnam News Agency ahead of a State visit by Vietnamese President Nguyễn Xuân Phúc to Singapore at the invitation of President Halimah Yacob, slated for February 24-26.
Evaluating the achievements in the bilateral relationship, Minister Balakrishnan said Singapore-Việt Nam ties have grown from strength to strength since they first established diplomatic relations in 1973.
“Today, we enjoy wide-ranging cooperation in many areas, built on a foundation of mutual friendship and learning,” he said.
“There are three main reasons for this: the high level of trust at the political level, our long-standing win-win partnerships, and our strong people-to- people ties.
“Our leaders have built up a high level of political trust and understanding over generations.
“We have frequent bilateral interactions, and meet each other often at regional and multilateral forums. Despite the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have found ways to keep up the momentum of our engagements.
“Following the 13th Communist Party of Việt Nam (CPV) Congress, Singaporean Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong telephoned President Nguyễn Xuân Phúc and PM Phạm Minh Chính to congratulate them on their new appointments. The two PMs also met in person in Jakarta on the sidelines of the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting in April 2021.
“In June 2021, I was honoured to be the first Foreign Minister to visit Việt Nam since the 13th Party Congress, as well as the first Singapore minister to visit Vietnam since the COVID-19 pandemic began. I had fruitful conversations with Việt Nam’s leaders, including my counterpart Foreign Minister Bùi Thanh Sơn, with whom I have interacted regularly since.
“Keeping up parliament-to-parliament relations, President of the National Assembly Vương Đình Huệ met Speaker of the Singapore Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin via videoconference in July 2021. Meanwhile, on the trade and investment front, Minister of Planning and Investment Nguyễn Chí Dũng and Second Minister for Trade and Industry Dr Tan See Leng co-chaired the 15th Connectivity Ministerial Meeting in November 2021 virtually.
“Singapore and Việt Nam share a common strategic outlook. First, as ASEAN Member States, Singapore and Việt Nam are firmly committed to regional peace and stability as well as ASEAN centrality. Our interests are better served when ASEAN is strong, independent, and united, and when we cooperate to achieve prosperity and development as a region.
“In this regard, Singapore appreciates the constructive role that Việt Nam has played since joining ASEAN in 1995. This was evident during Việt Nam’s ASEAN Chairmanship in 2020 which established important mechanisms to help our region cope with the COVID-19 crisis collectively.
“Second, we are firm supporters of a rules-based international order and international law. It is important for both small and medium-sized states to ensure that the ‘rules of the game’ of the international system are adhered to, and that the principle of ‘might is right’ does not prevail.
“Third, we are strongly committed to free trade. Singapore and Việt Nam are both members of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). We are also the only two ASEAN countries with a free trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union.
“Given our shared interests, our bilateral agenda is full and positive. I would like to highlight two areas in particular: our economic links, and our long-standing cooperation in human resource development.
“Economic cooperation has been the cornerstone of our bilateral relationship. Singapore companies see Việt Nam as an attractive investment destination. Việt Nam has experienced rapid growth and development since it embarked on its đổi mới (Renewal) programme in 1986.
“Việt nam has consistently enjoyed high GDP growth rates. With its young and hardworking population of nearly 100 million, Việt Nam is well-placed to become a major engine for growth and economic integration in the region. Việt Nam was one of the few countries in the world to achieve positive economic growth in 2020 and 2021 amidst the pandemic. This showcases the resilience of Việt Nam’s economy, which is expected to be one of the region’s fastest-growing economies in 2022.
“Singapore companies are eager to participate in Việt Nam’s growth story. Despite the pandemic, they see opportunities to diversify and expand their presence in Việt Nam. Singapore has been the leading source of foreign direct investment (FDI) into Việt Nam for two years running.
“With cumulative investment of US$62.55 billion in more than 2,600 projects in 45 out of 63 provinces in Vietnam, Việt Nam is also the top ASEAN investor in Việt Nam, and third overall, after Japan and South Korea. We rank consistently as one of Việt Nam’s largest trading partners.
“The Việt Nam-Singapore Industrial Parks (VSIPs) are iconic projects in our bilateral relationship. In the 25 years since the first VSIP was established, VSIP’s footprint has grown to ten Industrial Parks in seven localities. Collectively, they have attracted US$14 billion in investments and created over 270,000 jobs in Việt Nam. VSIP is also working to stay relevant, by integrating innovation and sustainable development to accommodate industries of the future.
“As Việt Nam’s develops into a middle-income country, our companies continue to look for new opportunities in sectors like e-commerce, logistics, education, food and lifestyle services, and urban solutions.
“Singapore and Việt Nam are also longstanding partners in human resource development. We share a common belief that this is the key to our sustainable development and progress. Việt Nam remains the top partner of the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP) with more than 20,000 Vietnamese officials having participated in our courses since 2002.
“In 2021, we commemorated the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Việt Nam-Singapore Cooperation Centre. I am especially proud that amid the disruptions posed by the pandemic, our training programmes never wavered. Over the past two years, we have upgraded the Centre to pivot to delivering courses virtually and conducted 36 online courses for over 600 officials.
“There is strong grassroots support for the relationship and frequent interaction between our peoples. Over the years, our people have forged lasting links through educational exchanges and tourism.
“Many Vietnamese are interested in studying in Singapore. Singapore hosts many Vietnamese students who have done well in our schools and universities, some of whom have won scholarships. Singapore educational institutions are likewise keen to have study visits and exchange programmes with their Vietnamese counterparts to deepen the knowledge and mutual understanding that our people have for each other.
“Tourism has also strengthened our people-to-people links. Việt Nam is one of the favourite destinations for Singaporeans. The interest is mutual, as surveys conducted by the Singapore Tourism Board in 2021 showed that Singapore was among the top destinations that the Vietnamese most wanted to visit once travel restrictions were lifted.”
Regarding the upcoming visit by President Phúc, the FM said Singapore warmly welcome the Vietnamese leader to Singapore.
“This is the first State visit that Singapore is hosting since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
“It is an opportunity to reaffirm our strong bilateral ties, take stock of our cooperation and discuss ways to advance our relationship as we work together towards a post-pandemic recovery.
He added: “Singapore looks forward to keeping our partnership forward-looking by expanding into emerging areas, and partnering Việt Nam in the next chapter of its development.
“In 2023, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of our bilateral relations, and the 10th anniversary of our Strategic Partnership.
“Looking ahead, I want to highlight two areas in particular. First, we need to accelerate our cooperation in the digital economy. This is a priority for both Singapore and Việt Nam, and encompasses many new areas such as cybersecurity, smart cities, innovation, artificial intelligence, and digital payments. COVID-19 has highlighted the crucial role of digital trade and e-commerce in ensuring supply chain resilience and business continuity.
“During my visit to Việt Nam last year, we agreed to establish a Digital Economy Working Group to identify useful areas of cooperation. I am confident that the Working Group will serve as a launchpad for many concrete collaborations between our governments, businesses, and other institutions.
“Second, sustainable development. Like COVID-19, climate change is a global issue that can only be tackled through the collective efforts of governments and people worldwide. Singapore is keen to work with Việt Nam as it increases investments in sustainable infrastructure and renewable energy, with the ambitious goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.”
Asked about the mutual support between the two countries in overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic, the Singaporean diplomat remarked the pandemic has fostered stronger bonds among the two peoples.
He said: “The Singaporean community in Việt Nam stepped up to contribute to Việt Nam’s efforts to fight its fourth COVID-19 wave last year. On the government-to-government level, we supported each other with critical medical supplies and equipment at key junctures in our fight against the pandemic. We also supported the return of our nationals living in each other’s countries, and ensured their access to vaccines and healthcare. As both sides learn to live with COVID-19, we hope to take the next step by resuming safe travel between our countries.
“During my visit to Việt Nam in June 2021, we agreed to establish a bilateral working group on COVID-19 public health and border measures to facilitate knowledge sharing on COVID-19 management and the eventual resumption of business and personal travel between our countries. Singapore is honoured to be in the first group of countries with which Việt Nam resumed international commercial flights this year. Similarly, we welcome Việt Nam plans to remove travel restrictions by mid-March this year,” he said.
Credit: Viet Nam News