PM Lee Hsien Loong: Singapore's ties with Vietnam prospering

PM Lee and Mrs Lee posing for a group photo yesterday with some of the Singaporeans and their families living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Mr Lee told them that the fact they are all there shows that the adventurous spirit in Singapore is alive and
PM Lee and Mrs Lee posing for a group photo yesterday with some of the Singaporeans and their families living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Mr Lee told them that the fact they are all there shows that the adventurous spirit in Singapore is alive and well.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

There are opportunities there, he says, urging Singaporeans to venture out into the region

Singapore's ties with Vietnam are prospering and there are opportunities for Singaporeans in the country, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

And as Singapore undergoes economic transformation, it is crucial to seize opportunities in the region in order to grow, he told about 280 Singaporeans living in Ho Chi Minh City at a dinner reception.

"If we are to prosper, we have to be able to go overseas and venture and take opportunities and uncertainties," Mr Lee said.

Deepening Singapore's international connections was one of the strategies set out by the Committee on the Future Economy in its report released last month.

Mr Lee added that Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City have progressed since his last visit to the city more than 10 years ago, and he hopes there will be more flights between Vietnam and Singapore.

He arrived in Vietnam yesterday morning for a four-day visit, and joined Singaporeans for dinner at the InterContinental Asiana Saigon hotel, where they tucked into favourites such as nasi lemak, satay and pandan chiffon cake.

There are 937 Singapore projects and more than 2,000 Singaporeans working in Ho Chi Minh City. "The fact that you are all here shows that the adventurous spirit in Singapore is alive and well," said Mr Lee.

One Singaporean pioneer in Vietnam is Mr Low Kok Chiang, 71, who runs an organic produce business with his son Patrick, 28.

They grow about 120 varieties of fruit and vegetables such as cabbage, tomatoes and kale in Da Lat city in the central highland region of Vietnam, and sell them at their two-year-old outlet called 5th Element in Ho Chi Minh City.

Another outlet is opening this weekend, and the Lows hope to have a third by the middle of this year. Their goal is to scale up production eventually so that they can export vegetables back to Singapore and open an outlet there.

"We see the Mekong delta as the last frontier for major food sources in Asia... and we want to make safe and healthy vegetables accessible," said the elder Mr Low, who has lived in Vietnam for 31 years and started growing produce in 2003.

Mr Patrick Low, who moved to Vietnam seven years ago after completing his national service, said they hope to expand their farmland beyond the current 4ha, which lets them harvest about half a tonne of produce a day.

"It is a challenging business if you talk about profitability, so it comes down to passion," he said.

Passion is also what drove Mr Poh Wei Ye, 33, to start an orphanage in the province of Vung Tau in northeast Vietnam. He grew to love helping street children after spending six months backpacking through the developing countries in South- east Asia seven years ago, after losing his mother to cancer. He and a local nun set up an orphanage, which now shelters 20 children.

"I want to see the kids able to continue to go to school, so that they don't have to work in a coffee shop or a factory and be trapped in the poverty cycle," he said.

Earlier in the day, Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee chairman Nguyen Thanh Phong called on Mr Lee and hosted him to lunch.

Both leaders affirmed the strong economic and business links between Singapore and Vietnam's commercial hub.

Singapore remains the top foreign investor in the city of eight million, with investments of US$10.2 billion (S$14.2 billion).

During their meeting, Mr Lee conveyed Singapore's continued interest in expanding investments in the city. Mr Phong updated him on plans for the city's development.

Mr Lee indicated that Singapore is happy to share its experience in urban planning and management, and thanked the city leadership for its support for Singapore and its businesses. Mr Phong said he looked forward to deeper business links with Singapore.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2017, with the headline 'PM: S'pore's ties with Vietnam prospering'. Print Edition | Subscribe