Singapore-Vietnam relations in their heyday

February 10, 2024 | 23:55
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This time last year, I wrote that 2023 would be a momentous year for Vietnam and Singapore’s relationship. We were all ready to celebrate the 50 years anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relationship and the 10 years since the establishment of a strategic partnership between the two countries.
Singapore-Vietnam relations in their heyday
Jaya Ratnam, Ambassador of Singapore to Vietnam

And what a year it has been. Now, as we begin 2024, both countries look to elevating our relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership.

Last year, as part of the celebrations, we saw continuation of exchange of visits at all levels. The highlight was the exchange of visits by our prime ministers - Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh visited Singapore in February, while Singapore’s PM Lee Hsien Loong visit in August culminated with an announcement that both sides would work on upgrading our relations to a comprehensive strategic partnership.

We have been able to move forward with such confidence as our bilateral relationship continues to rest on firm foundations of mutual trust and support established by our former prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Vo Van Kiet. Their legacy continues to guide our countries.

Deep economic cooperation has made our relationship mutually beneficial and remains the cornerstone of our bilateral relations. There is no better symbol of such cooperation than the Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Parks (VSIPs). These were conceptualised by the aforementioned former PMs, and the first was established in the southern province of Binh Duong in 1996.

In 2023 alone, we saw five new VSIPs launched, and such a pace of expansion is unprecedented.

The continued success of the VSIPs is testament to the strong confidence in Vietnam’s economic prospects and the government’s efforts to create an enabling environment for foreign investors. The VSIP model leverages the complementary strengths of both our countries. They have also evolved to support Vietnam’s development needs, with the latest focus being on sustainable development and innovation.

Befittingly, I ended 2023 by joining Vietnam’s State President Vo Van Thuong in the south-central province of Quang Ngai in December to mark the 10th anniversary of VSIP Quang Ngai I and witness the in-principle approval for VSIP Quang Ngai II, the 18th VSIP.

Indeed, we are standing at a high point of our trade and investment cooperation. In 2023, Singapore was the largest investor in Vietnam with over $6.8 billion invested, or almost 19 per cent of the total foreign investment. Cumulatively, over the years, Singapore has invested $74.51 billion into Vietnam, which makes us its second-largest investor.

We are aggressively expanding into new areas of economic cooperation. We broke new grounds when we concluded the Green-Digital Economic Partnership in February 2023 to facilitate cooperation in new growth areas such as carbon credits, renewable energy, talent and innovation, and the digital economy.

Already, there has been significant progress, with the announcement in October 2023 of a bilateral electricity project for the import of 1.4GW of low carbon energy from Vietnam to Singapore. Just as the VSIPs are an icon of our bilateral partnership, we look to this Vietnam Singapore Energy Project (VSEP) to drive our relations forward and bind our economies even closer in the coming decades.

Looking forward, we are working on bringing our economic cooperation to an even higher level, maintaining plans to elevate our relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership. Our bilateral projects will serve as pilots to develop legal regimes and regulations to keep pace with our aspirations for relationships.

Our current regime and regulations are designed for today’s world. As good partners, we can learn from each other, experiment and figure out the way forward together. We have a strong record of doing so. When VSIP Binh Duong I was first launched, it was probably the first of its kind in Vietnam.

There are several areas where we will be doing so in 2024 and beyond. On energy, Vietnam has approved an offshore wind site survey permit for a cross-border electricity trading proposal by PetroVietnam Technical Services Corporation and Sembcorp Utilities, which is the first important step forward for the VSEP and fulfilling our respective climate commitments. Now, we will both need to move forward on this project, including readying our energy infrastructure to prepare for the trading of renewable energy at such a scale.

For sustainability, we substantially concluded the negotiations for an Implementation Agreement in 2023. When signed, it would provide the framework for us to collaborate in carbon credit projects compliant with Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. This year, both Vietnam and Singapore need to figure out how to work together on projects that can generate carbon credits compliant with Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.

In terms of talent development, we signed a MoU on the Innovation Talent Exchange (ITX) Programme in 2023. When implemented, the programme will enable Vietnamese professionals to seek working stints in eligible innovation-related areas of work in Singapore, and vice versa. This year, we need to work to design the process that will allow us to implement the ITX.

Besides the new areas of cooperation, we must also future-proof our existing areas of collaborations – including, and especially, the VSIPs. In Quang Ngai in December, President Thuong encouraged VSIP to shift the “I” in “VSIP” from industrial to innovation. I entirely agree with him. The VSIP must continue to strive to keep ahead of the changing needs of the economy.

VSIPs have a good record of doing just so. The first VSIP, Binh Duong I, focused on light manufacturing, while Binh Duong II featured modern logistics facilities. The third VSIP there - Binh Duong III set to be launched in 2024, is positioned to be a smart and green industrial park, with an on-site solar farm, housing major groundbreaking green investments from LEGO and Pandora.

To meet our common goals, Vietnam and Singapore are already taking concrete steps to step up our coordination and cooperation as we face in an increasingly fluid and adverse external geopolitical environment. Firstly, the mandate of the Vietnam-Singapore Connectivity Framework – a high level ministerial bilateral coordinating mechanism unique to Vietnam and Singapore launched in 2006 – has been refreshed and upgraded in 2024 to include cooperation in the new and emerging areas of energy, sustainability, and innovation.

Secondly, also in 2024, we will launch the first annual meetings of our prime ministers, a format will enable high-level oversight and direction for our bilateral cooperation.

As long as we continue to work together, Vietnam and Singapore can bring our bilateral relationship to greater heights. We have ambitious targets ahead, but our future has never looked brighter.

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