S'pore, Vietnam to build on nearly 50 years of ties with focus on digital economy: Vivian Balakrishnan

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan (left) meeting Vietnam President Nguyen Xuan Phuc during his official visit to Vietnam in June last year. PHOTO: MFA

SINGAPORE - Singapore-Vietnam ties have grown from strength to strength since the two countries first established diplomatic relations in 1973, said Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Wednesday (Feb 23).

This is mainly due to the high level of trust at the political level, longstanding win-win partnerships, and strong people-to-people ties, he said ahead of a state visit by Vietnam President Nguyen Xuan Phuc to Singapore from Thursday to Saturday.

This will be the first state visit that Singapore is hosting since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In an interview with the Vietnam News Agency published on Wednesday, Dr Balakrishnan said that as Asean member states, Singapore and Vietnam are firmly committed to regional peace and stability as well as Asean centrality.

"In this regard, Singapore appreciates the constructive role that Vietnam has played since joining Asean in 1995. This was evident during Vietnam's Asean chairmanship in 2020, which established important mechanisms to help our region cope with the Covid-19 crisis collectively," he said.

Both countries are also firm supporters of a rules-based international order and international law, and are strongly committed to free trade.

They are both members of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and are the only two Asean countries with a free trade agreement with the European Union.

Dr Balakrishnan also highlighted the economic links and longstanding cooperation in human resource development between both countries.

Singapore ranks consistently as one of Vietnam's largest trading partners, and has been the leading source of foreign direct investment into Vietnam for two years running.

With cumulative investment of US$62.6 billion (S$84.2 billion) in over 2,600 projects in 45 out of 63 provinces in Vietnam, Singapore is also the top Asean investor in Vietnam, and third overall, after Japan and South Korea.

Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park, established 25 years ago, now has 10 industrial parks in seven localities, collectively attracting US$14 billion in investments and creating over 270,000 jobs in Vietnam.

Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of bilateral relations for both countries.

It will also be the 10th anniversary of their Strategic Partnership, which was established in 2013 to deepen political relations, economic and security and defence cooperation, and partnership in promoting regional and international cohesion and cooperation.

The Vietnam Singapore Industrial Park in Binh Duong province, Vietnam. PHOTO: SEMBCORP DEVELOPMENT

Dr Balakrishnan said leaders from both countries have built a high level of political trust and understanding over generations.

Both countries supported each other with critical medical supplies and equipment during the pandemic, and are looking into resuming safe travel, noted Dr Balakrishnan, who in June last year was the first Singapore minister to visit Vietnam since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

He said Singapore looks forward to keeping the partnership forward-looking by expanding into emerging areas.

This includes accelerating cooperation in the digital economy in areas like cyber security, smart cities and digital payments.

The two countries have agreed to establish a digital economy working group to identify useful areas of cooperation.

Singapore is also keen to work with Vietnam in sustainable development as Vietnam increases investments in sustainable infrastructure and renewable energy, with the goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Another key area of bilateral cooperation is the Singapore Cooperation Programme, which was established in 2002 to provide training courses for Vietnamese officials in areas such as communication skills, economic development, public governance, management and law, and information and communications technology. Its centre has trained 20,000 Vietnamese officials as at November last year.

There is also strong grassroots support for the relationship and frequent interaction between the people of both countries, who have forged lasting links through educational exchanges and tourism, the minister noted.

Singapore hosts many Vietnamese students, while its educational institutions are also keen to have study visits and exchange programmes with their Vietnamese counterparts.

Vietnam is one of the favourite destinations for Singaporeans, Dr Balakrishnan said.

Surveys conducted by the Singapore Tourism Board in 2021 also showed that Singapore was among the top destinations that the Vietnamese most wanted to visit once travel restrictions were lifted.

President Phuc will call on President Halimah Yacob at the Istana on Friday, and attend a state banquet in his honour that evening.

He and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will witness the signing of bilateral agreements to further strengthen the multifaceted cooperation between Singapore and Vietnam.

He will also deliver the keynote address at the Singapore-Vietnam Business Dialogue at Shangri-La Hotel on the same day.

He will meet Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on Saturday, followed by a visit to the Sembcorp Tengeh floating solar farm before he leaves Singapore.

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