Singapore and Vietnam are looking at gradually relaxing curbs on business travel and trips to selected tourist sites in the next few months, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday. Such plans will depend on how fast Vietnam can vaccinate its population.
He was speaking at a doorstop via Zoom at the conclusion of a four-day visit to Vietnam's capital Hanoi, where he met newly appointed President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh.
Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore and Vietnam share a similar strategy for containing Covid-19 outbreaks, including intensive testing, quarantines and mass inoculation.
Vietnam also imposed strict measures such as shutting non-essential businesses and restricting gatherings even before it began to battle its worst virus outbreak, which started in late April from a church cluster in Ho Chi Minh City and factories in the country's north.
Only about 2 per cent of Vietnam's 98 million population is vaccinated.
"We have also discussed, in the next few months, hopefully by the end of the year, how we can gradually and safely liberalise, particularly... business travel, and perhaps... selected tourist sites," said Dr Balakrishnan.
"But the key thing first is Vietnam needs some time to step up its vaccination programme - so we will wait for them to be ready."
In the meantime, he said, both countries are engaged at the staff level to work on mutual recognition of vaccine certificates and testing results to build confidence towards reopening of borders.
In new rules announced yesterday, from next Monday, travellers from Vietnam will be subject to a 14-day quarantine in Singapore at dedicated facilities, with a mandatory antigen rapid test on the third, seventh and 11th days after arrival. Previously, they would have to undergo a 21-day stay-home notice.
Dr Balakrishnan also said that Vietnam has expressed interest in Singapore technology like breathalyser test kits.
On the Myanmar crisis, he said both governments reiterated calls for violence to cease and for dialogue to begin. "Vietnam and Singapore stand ready to do what we can without interfering."
2,422,643 Total number of people vaccinated in Vietnam as at Sunday.
13,862 Total number of cases in Vietnam as at yesterday.
69 Total number of Covid-19-related deaths in Vietnam as at yesterday.
Asean leaders in April agreed on a five-point consensus at a special summit in Jakarta, calling for parties in Myanmar to stop violence and start dialogue with opponents in a process that will be facilitated by a special Asean envoy, aided by the Asean secretary-general.
The conflict, which started after the army seized power on Feb 1 and removed Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's elected government, has left at least 870 people dead, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group.
Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore and Vietnam share the position that Asean centrality and unity must be maintained and that "it is even more important for Asean rules to be accentuated (in view of) the regional developments, global developments, superpower rivalry".
In his speech at the Asia-Europe Meeting's High-Level Policy Dialogue on Tuesday, he emphasised the need to strengthen multilateralism and a rules-based system, and described cooperation between Asia and Europe as "indispensable" amid complex challenges like climate change and cyber security.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement yesterday that Dr Balakrishnan and Vietnam's Deputy Prime Minister expressed their commitment to strengthen economic and financial cooperation under the Singapore-Vietnam Strategic Partnership, which will mark its 10th anniversary in 2023.
Despite the pandemic, bilateral trade grew by 0.1 per cent last year. Singapore has a cumulative investment of more than US$56 billion (S$75 billion) in more than 2,600 projects, the statement noted.
This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the first Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park, which is said to have attracted US$14 billion in investments and created more than 270,000 jobs in Vietnam.
Dr Balakrishnan and Mr Pham Binh Minh also discussed regional developments, including deepening economic integration through the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
Singapore and Vietnam are among 11 countries that have ratified the CPTPP, a free trade alliance that came into force in 2018. The two countries are also signatories of the RCEP, another free trade agreement that was signed last year between all 10 Asean countries and their partners in the region - Australia, China, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
Dr Balakrishnan's trip is the first visit to Vietnam by a foreign minister since the country's leadership transition in April.
"Concluded a busy and fruitful visit to Hanoi - a 1,000-year-old city with lots of history and culture. Was honoured to be the first foreign minister to visit after the new Vietnamese leadership was elected," Dr Balakrishnan said in a Facebook post yesterday.
"I look forward to continue strengthening partnerships, and deepening the reservoir of trust and goodwill which we have in Vietnam."