HANOI - Singapore and Vietnam signed six agreements to expand cooperation on Thursday (March 23), including working together on developing possible innovation and industrial parks.
These are a testament to growing collaboration between the two countries, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, after witnessing the signing of the agreements together with his Vietnam counterpart Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
"Our economic ties are strong...Our flights in both directions are full and I think if we can have more flights we would be able to have more connectivity, more economic opportunities and more investments and trade," said Mr Lee, at a joint press conference with Mr Phuc after they met at the Office of the Government in Hanoi.
Mr Phuc said during the press conference that the two countries agreed to work closely together in order to promote bilateral cooperation in other areas including education, training, culture, and tourism.
Travel between Vietnam and Singapore is expanding with more intensive business links and tourism, so both PMs came agreed that they should further discuss the liberalisation of bilateral air services in order to enhance connectivity between the two countries.
Mr Lee is on a four-day official visit to Vietnam, which ends on Friday. It is the first time Mr Phuc is hosting Mr Lee since taking on his current position in April last year.
Said Mr Phuc: "Proceeding from fruitful talks today I am convinced that the Vietnam-Singapore strategic partnership will continue to thrive for the interests of the two peoples for peace, stability, progression and development in the region."
Singapore was Vietnam's sixth largest trading partner in 2015 and third largest foreign investor last year. It has been Vietnam's top foreign investor so far this year.
Bilateral trade was S$19.8 billion last year.
Among the new agreements was in-principal approval given to UOB by the State Bank of Vietnam to set up a foreign-owned subsidiary bank by June 2017. Enhancing Singapore banks' access to Vietnam's financial markets will further promote investment flows and benefit both countries, said Mr Lee.
Three other agreements involved Sembcorp. Its urban development arm Sembcorp Development and the People's Committee of Da Nang agreed to explore the feasibility of developing a Software Park in Da Nang, while Sembcorp Utilities will work with Vietnam's Ministry of Industry and Trade to develop the Dung Quat power plant in Quang Ngai province, in conjunction with Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park V.
The Sembcorp - Becamex IDC joint venture and the People's Committee of Quang Tri Province agreed to explore developing another such industrial park in Quang Tri Province.
There are currently seven such industrial parks across the country, the first of which was set up in 1996 in Binh Duong province. They have attracted US$9 billion (S$12.6 billion) in investments to date and employ more than 170,000 people.
The other two agreements signed were between the Singapore International Foundation and the Vietnam-Singapore Friendship Association to work together on promoting social innovation and entrepreneurship, arts and cultural exchange, and volunteer cooperation, and between Keppel Land Vietnam and State Capital Investment Corporation to collaborate on investment opportunities in Vietnam.
Both PMs also discussed security issues and the South China Sea during the meeting between the Singapore and Vietnam delegations.
Mr Lee said Singapore and Vietnam, as Asean member states, share an interest in a rules-based international order in resolving issues in accordance with international law including the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea.
He added that both countries also share an interest in a united Asean " that is relevant to our people and to our external partners and also our freedom of navigation on an important artery of global commerce in the South China Sea".
"We agreed to continue working together on the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and the expeditious conclusion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea," he said.
Mr Phuc said both countries shared a common view that countries in the region should work closely together in order to build the South China Sea into a region of peace, stability, security, safety and prosperity.
"We are also committed to urge the parties concerned to settle all the many disputes in the South China Sea by peaceful means on the basis of respect for international law," he added.
On Asean, he said it was important to maintain strong collaboration among Asean countries "to build a united, dynamic and creative Asean and uphold the centrality of the association in addressing strategic issues in the region".
Mr Lee said he looks forward to supporting Vietnam's chairmanship of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) this year and to attending the Apec Economic Leaders' Meeting in Da Nang in November. Mr Phuc thanked him for the support.
Mr Lee also said he looks forward to welcoming Mr Phuc for a return visit to Singapore soon.
Earlier on Thursday morning, Mr Lee laid wreaths at the Monument of Heroes and Martyrs and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, and was given a welcome ceremony at the Presidential Palace where the national anthems of both countries were played.
He will call on Vietnam's President Tran Dai Quang, and Communist Party of Vietnam general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong. He will also meet National Assembly president Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan. In the evening, Mr Phuc will host Mr Lee to an official dinner.