Singapore President's visit: Providing direction for further progress in relationship over next 50 years and beyond

On the occasion of the State Visit of Singapore President Halimah Yacob to Vietnam from 16 to 20 October, Singapore's Ambassador to Viet Nam Jaya Ratnam shared with TG&VN the meanings of the visit and Singapore-Vietnam economic relations.
Singapore President's visit to Viet Nam: Providing direction to make further progress in the relationship over the next 50 years and beyond
President Nguyen Xuan Phuc (left) holds talks with Singapore President Halimah Yacob in Singapore in February. (Source: VNA)

Could you please share your expectations about the Singapore President Halimah Yacob’s visit to Vietnam in the context of frequent high-level exchanges between the two countries?

Singapore President Halimah Yacob’s State Visit to Vietnam from 16 to 20 October is the latest in a sequence of high-level exchanges between Singapore and Vietnam over the course of this year. This sequence of visits began with the State Visit of Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc in February 2022.

This exchange of State Visits is significant, not only because both visits have taken place within the same year, but also because of the “firsts” in each of the visits. President Phuc was the first State Visitor that Singapore received since the Covid-19 pandemic, while President Halimah’s visit to Vietnam is her first outgoing State visit since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since then, as both Singapore and Vietnam reopened our borders, my Embassy and I have been extremely busy, welcoming our Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin in May, Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Trade and Industry Dr Tan See Leng in August, Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat in September, as well as a host of visits at the officials’ level.

This intense frequency of high-level visits is indicative of the strong political trust between our countries at the leaders’ level as well as the keen desire of both sides to partner and collaborate with each other across a wide range of fields.

Coming on the cusp of Singapore and Vietnam celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations and 10th anniversary of our Strategic Partnership in 2023, President Halimah’s visit to Vietnam provides an excellent curtain-raiser for the twin 50/10 anniversaries.

The visit will be an important opportunity for both sides to review the excellent achievements that have been made in deepening our bilateral relations over the past time as well as consolidate and cement cooperation in several areas including on cybersecurity, carbon credits pilot projects, and technical and vocational education and training.

Given the forward-looking and future-oriented nature of our bilateral cooperation, I also expect that President Halimah’s visit will help to provide direction for both countries to make further progress in our relationship over the next 50 years and beyond.

The model of VSIP industrial parks demonstrates the effective cooperation between Vietnam and Singapore. In recent times, the leaders of the two countries have discussed further replicating this model in the direction of green, smart and creative industrial parks. Can you evaluate the potential of this plan?

Since the first Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park (VSIP) was established in Binh Duong Province in 1996, the VSIP model has become an important icon for the overall economic relationship between Singapore and Vietnam. The 11 VSIPs in 8 provinces across the length of Vietnam, in the Northern, Central and Southern regions, have attracted USD 17 billion of investments and created more than 300,000 jobs.

However, beyond the direct value brought about by the VSIPs in terms of investment, jobs and economic growth, the key differentiating factor for the VSIPs is in doing things that are relevant to supporting Vietnam’s development needs as well as things that engender win-win cooperation for Vietnam and Singapore. The newest VSIP – VSIP Binh Duong III, which Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh graced the ground-breaking ceremony in March – is a classic example of this. As a new-generation VSIP, VSIP Binh Duong III will incorporate Industry 4.0, sustainability, and green design elements. These are all areas in which the Vietnamese government has expressed interest in addressing to set Vietnam on a path towards achieving its goal of becoming a high-income country by 2045.

Like these new-generation VSIPs, I have great confidence that our bilateral partnership will evolve and adapt with the times and circumstances to allow Singapore and Vietnam to be at the forefront in capturing the opportunities that the future economy presents.

Singapore President's visit to Viet Nam: Providing direction to make further progress in the relationship over the next 50 years and beyond
Singapore's Ambassador to Vietnam Jaya Ratnam. (Photo: QT)

In your opinion, what are the economic cooperation opportunities between the two countries in the coming time?

The potential for broadening and deepening of economic cooperation between Singapore and Vietnam is immense. One segment of this cooperation happens organically, without the intervention of our two governments. In my conversations with Singaporean companies, both large and small, the constant refrain is that they want to invest more in Vietnam. This is testament to the attractive conditions that Vietnam has been able to create, including political stability, promotion of free trade agreements, and a young and driven workforce. It is hence no surprise to me that Singapore has become the largest source of foreign investment into Vietnam since 2020, and cumulatively the second largest source of foreign investment.

Where our governments can play a role is in identifying new areas for mutually beneficial cooperation. In my view, there are two areas that will be ripe for the picking in the near- to medium- term.

The first area is on the energy front. Viet Nam has immense potential for renewable energy, particularly wind and solar energy. Developing this potential could transform Vietnam into an important renewable energy hub for the Southeast Asian region. Singapore is keen to participate in Vietnam’s push to meet its target of achieving nett zero emissions by 2050. To this end, both our countries are working towards an MOU on Energy Cooperation and I hope that this will be signed soon.

The second promising area is in digital transformation, which is critical for increasing productivity and in improving the lives of our people. During President Phuc’s State Visit to Singapore earlier this year, both sides signed an agreement to cooperate on digital economy development. We look forward to working with our Vietnamese counterparts to advance our cooperation in this area, both bilaterally but also with aspirations for Singapore and Vietnam to be pathfinders for the wider Southeast Asian region.

Viet Nam is honoured to be nominated by ASEAN countries with high consensus to become the bloc’s candidate for a seat in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in the 2023-2025 tenure. At the vote at the United Nations headquarters on October 11, Vietnam was elected to become a member of the UNHRC. How do you evaluate this result and what are your expectations of Vietnam's contributions in this new position?

I extend warm congratulations to Vietnam, in particular my counterparts at the Vietnam Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on Vietnam’s election to the United Nations Human Rights Council for the term 2023 to 2025. This is a testament to the constructive role that Viet Nam has played in various multilateral forum, including as a Non-permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council from 2020 to 2021, in maintaining the centrality and unity of ASEAN, as well as promoting the importance of free-trade and a rules-based international order.

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