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Vietnam, Singapore mark 50 years of friendship and beyond

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The state visit to Singapore by President Phuc is significant on many levels

Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc’s ongoing state visit to Singapore from February 24-26 is of great significance, as it is the first by a head of state to Singapore since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, and also the first high-level delegation exchange between the two countries since April 2018, when Phuc visited Singapore as the prime minister of Vietnam. 

On Tuesday, Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said: “President Phuc’s state visit reaffirms Singapore’s excellent ties with Vietnam, as both countries prepare to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations and the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Strategic Partnership in 2023.”

The two countries’ Strategic Partnership, established in 2013, is developing positively in all fields. In the political sphere, the two countries have regularly carried out consultations at ministerial and lower levels.

Vietnam and Singapore share a common assessment of the world situation, and have the same views on world and regional issues. In terms of economy, Singapore was Vietnam’s largest investor in 2020 and 2021 and trade relations have continued to thrive despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

Strong economic ties

Two-way trade hit US$8.3 billion in 2021, and was more than $783 million in January 2022, up 23.3% and 6.8% year on year respectively. Notably, last year, Singapore took the lead among all foreign investors in Vietnam with registered investment of more than $10.7 billion, accounting for 34.4% of total capital attracted by Vietnam.

Singaporean investors have participated in building infrastructure for 13 industrial parks in Vietnam, with a total area of about 7,517 hectares. Those industrial parks are operating with high occupancy rates (83.2% on average), attracting nearly 1,000 projects, of which more than 80% are foreign-invested projects with a total registered capital of about $18.1 billion, and nearly 300,000 jobs have been created.

In an e-mailed interview with the Vietnam News Agency recently, Singaporean Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan highlighted that “economic cooperation has been the cornerstone of our bilateral relationship. Singapore companies see Vietnam as an attractive investment destination.”

According to Balakrishnan, Vietnam has experienced rapid growth and development since it embarked on its Doi Moi program in 1986, and Vietnam has consistently enjoyed high GDP growth rates. 

“With its young and hard-working population of nearly 100 million, Vietnam is well placed to become a major engine for growth and economic integration in the region. Vietnam was one of the few countries in the world last year to achieve positive economic growth amidst the pandemic. This showcases the resilience of Vietnam’s economy, which is expected to be one of the region’s fastest-growing economies in 2022,” he wrote. 

Dealing with the pandemic

According to Associate Professor Vu Minh Khuong of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, both Vietnam and Singapore aspire to vigorous development in the post-pandemic period, stronger integration into the world, and better connectivity with strategic friends.

Both Vietnam and Singapore have managed to cope with the pandemic, adopting the strategy of “living with Covid-19,” and issued initiatives to mitigate the pandemic’s serious impacts on their economies. Given this, they will have much to share in the coming times, according to Khuong. 

In the fight against Covid-19, the two countries have helped each other. In early 2020, when the pandemic developed complications in Singapore, the Vietnamese National Assembly granted 30,000 face masks to its counterpart. In 2021, when Vietnam was in trouble, Singapore was among the first members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to provide medical equipment and supplies to Vietnam.

Singapore donated a lot of medical equipment to the country through the Temasek Foundation and other organizations, with a total value of more than S$5 million (US$3.72 million) in September 2021. And Singapore has recently announced a gift of 122,400 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine for Vietnam.

Vietnamese Ambassador to Singapore Mai Phuoc Dung recently said that Vietnam always appreciates the assistance from Singaporean friends. 

Trust at political level

In recent years, the Vietnam-Singapore Strategic Partnership has developed strongly. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the two sides have maintained contacts and meetings at different levels, and made good use of bilateral cooperation mechanisms, especially the annual political consultation at the deputy foreign ministerial level.

Vietnam and Singapore have maintained frequent bilateral interactions, and meet each other often at regional and multilateral fora. After the 13th Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) Congress, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong telephoned President Phuc and Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh to congratulate them on their new appointments.

The two prime ministers also met in person in Jakarta on the sidelines of the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting in April 2021. Defense and security ties and people-to-people exchanges have also developed well.

“Singapore and Vietnam share a common strategic outlook,” Balakrisnan said. “First, as ASEAN member states, Singapore and Vietnam are firmly committed to regional peace and stability as well as ASEAN centrality. Our interests are better served when ASEAN is strong, independent, and united, and when we cooperate to achieve prosperity and development as a region.”

He said 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 the region cope with the Covid-19 crisis collectively.

As well, Vietnam and Singapore are firm supporters of a rules-based international order and international law. It is important for both small and medium-sized states to ensure that the “rules of the game” of the international system are adhered to, and that the principle of “might is right” does not prevail.

Higher cooperation

The ongoing state visit to Singapore by President Phuc is hoped to lift the bilateral relationship to a new height in the context of several new-generation free-trade agreements taking effect, such as the  Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) or the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

The visit aims to affirm Vietnam’s determination to boost economic development and create a favorable business environment, thus delivering an important message helping Singaporean investors feel secure in doing business in Vietnam.

The visit is expected to be an important contribution to Vietnam’s efforts to promote post-pandemic economic recovery, especially in the fields that Singapore has strengths and Vietnam has demand, such as digital economy and transformation, green and clean energy, and high-quality human resources. 

Moreover, the visit will convey a message to the world in general and ASEAN in particular that even in the context of the pandemic, and in the era of political, economic and health uncertainties, the two countries are still moving forward, and strengthening their bilateral relations based on mutual trust.

Both Vietnam and Singapore are looking forward to strengthening their bilateral relations to become fulcrums of Southeast Asia in terms of political, economic and strategic relations.

For many observers, Singapore and Vietnam are worthy of watching. The two countries have been maintaining quite well their neutral positions during the US-China rivalry, even reportedly benefiting from these tensions, with their own wise and flexible ways.

In ASEAN, Singapore is always one of the most active and responsible members in dealing the bloc’s issues. Though it joined ASEAN quite long after Singapore, Vietnam has been gained more and more trust and appreciations from other members for its enduring efforts supporting the concept of a united and resilient ASEAN. 

Neither Vietnam nor Singapore is vying for a leadership position in ASEAN but are instead supporting each other to become stronger and stronger. As Vu Minh Khuong said, via cooperation, the two countries can help solve the problems of the region and the world.

Phuc’s visit is a new beginning step in a long journey of Vietnam-Singapore friendship lying ahead. It will lay important and long-term foundations for the two countries to optimize the potential of bilateral relations and capitalize on global trends, particularly in sustainable development, globalization, and digital revolution, to progress faster in the time ahead.

By Michael The – Asia Times – February 24, 2022

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