Singapore and Vietnam signed six agreements yesterday to expand economic cooperation, underscoring the growing collaboration between the two countries since upgrading bilateral ties three years ago.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who witnessed their signing together with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, said he was happy that relations have strengthened through the strategic partnership.
"I look forward to continuing to strengthen our friendships and cooperation, as we strive to improve the lives of our people," he said at a dinner hosted by Mr Phuc.
The agreements were for cooperation in such areas as developing innovation and industrial parks.
Singapore was Vietnam's sixth largest trading partner in 2015 and third largest foreign investor last year. So far this year, it holds the top spot as foreign investor. Bilateral trade stood at $19.8 billion last year.
At a press conference with Mr Phuc after the signing, Mr Lee said both prime ministers had agreed to further discuss liberalising air services, as travel between Singapore and Vietnam is increasing in tandem with more intensive business links and tourism.
Mr Phuc said both sides would also work closely to promote cooperation in education, training, culture and tourism, among others.
Mr Lee is on a four-day official visit to Vietnam, which ends today. It is the first time Mr Phuc is playing host to Mr Lee since taking on his current position in April last year.
In his dinner toast, Mr Phuc said in Vietnamese: "There is an old saying in Vietnam: A single tree doesn't make a forest. We value our friendship with Singapore and we shall protect and nurture that friendship not only for our generation, but as a legacy for those to come."
Among the new agreements signed yesterday was an in-principle approval given to UOB by the State Bank of Vietnam to set up a foreign-owned subsidiary bank by June. Enhancing Singapore banks' access to Vietnam's financial markets will promote investment flows and benefit both countries, Mr Lee said, adding that he looked forward to the final approval.
Three other agreements involved Sembcorp, such as one between the Sembcorp-Becamex IDC joint venture and the People's Committee of Quang Tri Province to look into developing another Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park in the province. There are now seven such industrial parks across Vietnam. They have attracted US$9 billion (S$12.6 billion) in investments to date and employ more than 170,000 people.
Mr Lee and Mr Phuc also discussed security issues and the South China Sea. Mr Lee said that as Asean members, both Singapore and Vietnam share an interest in a rules-based international order to resolve issues in line with international law. Mr Phuc said both shared the view that countries in the region should work closely together to build the South China Sea into a region of peace, security and prosperity.
Both agreed on the need to uphold Asean unity and centrality.
Mr Lee also invited Mr Phuc to visit Singapore soon. Yesterday, Mr Lee was given a welcome at the Presidential Palace, and called on Communist Party of Vietnam General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang. He also met National Assembly President Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan.