Ambassador Jaya Ratnam: Diplomacy ‘prominent’ in COVID-19 control and prevention

Singapore's Ambassador to Vietnam Jaya Ratnam shared with The World & Vietnam Report his thoughts on the prominent role of diplomacy in COVID-19 control and prevention, with details into the Singapore-Viet Nam relations.
Ambassador Jaya Ratnam: Diplomacy ‘prominent’ in COVID-19 control and prevention
Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son received Singapore’s Ambassador to Vietnam Jaya Ratnam on May 26th. (Photo: Tuan Anh/The World & Vietnam Report)

Viet Nam’s ‘impressive’ response to COVID-19

How do you evaluate the COVID-19 prevention and control of the Vietnamese Government? What is the role of Viet Nam’s diplomacy in this work? In your opinion, how has the complicated situation of the COVID-19 pandemic affected the cooperation between Viet Nam and Singapore over the past time?

The Vietnamese government’s response to COVID-19 has been impressive and more importantly impactful in addressing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting all of us – the Vietnamese and foreign community here. Throughout the pandemic, Viet Nam has fought hard to control and then reduce the spread of the virus and bolster significantly medical capacity to keep COVID-19-related hospitalisations and deaths to a minimum. What is particularly striking is the rapid and accelerating vaccine rollout in Viet Nam since March 2021, which testifies to the government’s capacity and resolve to proactively shift the country safely into a new normal.

Diplomacy has played a prominent role throughout this global public health crisis. Starting from the early days of the pandemic, Viet Nam’s diplomacy facilitated the timely exchange of information and best practices between countries and their governments at crucial junctures.

To this end, Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyen Minh Vu and Singapore’s Permanent Secretary of Foreign Affairs Chee Wee Kiong had a videoconference in September 2021 to share experiences in managing COVID-19. Diplomacy has also channelled practical expressions of friendship and solidarity in the form of donations and transfers of medical supplies, drugs, and vaccines between countries.

In our respective times of need, Singapore and Viet Nam have helped each other through donations of medical equipment to each other. Most importantly, diplomacy has enabled collective action towards reopening, recovery, and resilience.

Under Viet Nam’s 2020 ASEAN Chairmanship, for instance, ASEAN established mechanisms to soften the negative impact on our communities, such as the ASEAN COVID-19 Response Fund, Regional Reserve of Medical Supplies, and Comprehensive Recovery Framework.

The pandemic has compelled adjustments to the way Viet Nam and Singapore cooperate. Some have been beneficial. We have taken greater advantage of technology to convene meetings and conferences online.

The 13th and 14th iterations of the Singapore-Viet Nam Bilateral Consultations were held online in 2020 and 2021 respectively. On the other hand, the pandemic has also reduced opportunities in other areas, such as travel for business, education, visiting family, and leisure from both sides.

Despite these challenges, political and economic ties are flourishing. Singapore Foreign Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan visited Ha Noi in June 2021 to meet top leaders. Singapore was also in 2020 and the first eleven months of 2021 the largest foreign investor in Viet Nam, which demonstrates the confidence we have in Viet Nam’s resilience and prospects.

Đại sứ Singapore tại Việt Nam Jaya Ratnam
Singapore's Ambassador to Viet Nam Jaya Ratnam. (Photo: Vietnam Investment Review)

It can be seen that medical cooperation in preventing and controlling COVID-19 has become a highlight in the ties between the two countries. With regard to the new risk posed by the Omicron variant, what should Viet Nam and Singapore do to promote epidemic prevention and control, as well as to secure the rights and interests of the two countries?

The World Health Organization has classified Omicron as a variant of concern. Studies are still being conducted to establish its transmissibility, incubation period, infectious duration, severity of illness, and the efficacy of existing vaccines. Singapore and Vietnam have learnt many lessons from dealing with earlier waves of the virus and are now closely monitoring developments and findings on the new variant.

In the meantime, we are stepping up surveillance and strengthening protocols in the form of testing, tracing, and quarantine, shoring up healthcare capacity, and accelerating vaccine rollout. This is a necessary, responsible, and prudent response to safeguard the health and lives of our people, while permitting business activity and social interactions in a safe manner. Both sides continue to work closely together to coordinate our responses to the pandemic to better support each other and navigate the winding path towards a new normal.

Toward a stronger Singapore-Viet Nam relationship

Apart from effectively preventing and controlling the COVID-19 pandemic, an urgent target of both Viet Nam and Singapore now is to restore the economic growth toward green and sustainable direction after the pandemic. In this context, which areas should the two sides cooperate for mutual benefits?

In the immediate term, Viet Nam and Singapore should continue to work on protocols to restore regular commercial travel between our countries in a safe and calibrated fashion, such as the mutual recognition of COVID-19 vaccine certificates and eventually vaccinated travel lanes. This is critical to sustain cross-border flows of trade and investment, which support the growth and employment that are crucial to both our economies. Resumption of travel with the necessary safeguards will also resuscitate the sectors of our economies most badly impacted by the pandemic, such as hospitality, transport, and even manufacturing.

Both governments and businesses are also scanning the horizon for opportunities to cooperate in emerging sectors such as innovation, start-ups, smart cities, clean energy, infrastructure, and logistics. In June this year, our countries announced a working group on digital economy cooperation. These are encouraging signs that our countries are not merely reacting to the current crisis but taking the opportunities posed by the crisis to proactively plan and coordinate for the future.

Singapore đề nghị Việt Nam sớm hoàn tất đàm phán công nhận lẫn nhau về hộ chiếu vaccine Covid-19, nối lại đường bay
Viet Nam's Deputy Foreign Minister and Singapore’s Permanent Secretary of Foreign Affairs Chee Wee Kiong co-chaired the 14th political consultation between the two nations via videoconference on November 9, 2021.

Can you share about several directions in the promotion of people-to-people exchanges between the two countries in the coming time, toward the 50th anniversary of our bilateral diplomatic relationship in 2023?

At the heart of every strong relationship is a sense of community, friendship, and trust, which must be built over time. Our governments are working to strengthen people-to-people ties, particularly among our youth. One highlight of Singapore-Viet Nam relations is our common emphasis on human resource development.

As such, we were extremely pleased to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Viet Nam-Singapore Training Centre (which was upgraded and renamed the Viet Nam-Singapore Cooperation Centre in 2018) as well as the 20,000th Vietnamese participant in the Singapore Cooperation Programme in November 2021.

Beyond capacity-building for officials, Singapore hosts many Vietnamese students in our schools and universities, some of whom have won scholarships. Many of our schools also have established partnerships with schools in Viet Nam. As COVID-19 is brought under control, we look forward to sending more Singapore students to Viet Nam for internships, service-learning trips, immersion, and exchange programmes. This will give them opportunities to learn about Viet Nam’s society, culture, and business environment.

Singapore and Viet Nam also enjoyed healthy and growing two-way flows of tourism in the years leading up to the pandemic, a trend we will look to restore as we prepare to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations and the 10th anniversary of the bilateral Strategic Partnership in 2023.

2021 is coming to an end and Your Excellency is celebrating the first Lunar New Year Festival in Viet Nam. What do you expect most on this occasion? Do you have any message to the Vietnamese people on the occasion of Lunar New Year?

I look forward to experiencing Tet in Viet Nam for the very first time in 2022. Singapore and Viet Nam both celebrate the Lunar New Year, which is a time of renewal, reunion, and rejoicing with family and friends. I am fortunate to have my family here in Viet Nam and hope to see more of this beautiful country with them during Tet. On the occasion, I would like to warmly wish the people of Viet Nam good health, prosperity, and much happiness in the coming year.

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