Viet Nam News
by Teo Chee Hean,
Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security of Singapore
Since the introduction of economic reforms or Đổi Mới in 1986, Việt Nam has made remarkable progress. Then Prime Minister Võ Văn Kiệt had asked Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, about our experience in attracting foreign investment.
I had followed Mr Lee on his visits to Việt Nam since the early 1990s and experienced the warm exchanges over these years in my different portfolios ranging from the economy, defence, education to internal security. This is my 10th official visit and I am heartened to see the rapid transformation each time.
The regular high-level visits enable our leaders to maintain close personal connections. Last year, then Prime Minister Nguyễn Tấn Dũng was twice in Singapore and Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc came as a Lee Kuan Yew Exchange Fellow. Just two weeks ago, President Trần Đại Quang made a very successful State visit to Singapore and we had a good exchange of views in Hanoi earlier this week to further our bilateral cooperation. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will also visit Việt Nam and attend the APEC Summit next year.
Việt Nam and Singapore share longstanding and multi-faceted ties, with substantive cooperation in many areas such as security and defence, trade and investment, finance, aviation and tourism, as well as education and training. We have elevated bilateral relations to a Strategic Partnership in 2013. I will highlight three areas of strong cooperation.
First, our good defence and security relations allow both countries to institutionalise regular exchanges, cooperate on regional security architecture, and work on transnational issues such as submarine safety and rescue, and maritime security.
I signed our Defence Cooperation Agreement in 2009 as Defence Minister with then Defence Minister General Phùng Quang Thanh, and in 2010, worked with Việt Nam on the inaugural ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM)-Plus in Hà Nội. The Singapore Navy has also made regular port calls to Việt Nam and in March this year, RSS Endurance was the first foreign navy vessel to call at the new Cam Ranh International Port. The confidence and mutual cooperation between our defence and security forces will allow both countries to strengthen exchanges and address emerging issues such as counter-terrorism and cybersecurity.
Second, Singapore has deep economic ties with Việt Nam. Bilateral trade has also grown steadily, doubling over the past decade to reach US$16 billion in 2015. Singapore is Việt Nam’s 6th largest trading partner, while Việt Nam is Singapore’s 11th largest trading partner. Singapore is also the 3rd largest foreign investor in Vietnam, with cumulative investments over US$38 billion in more than 1,600 projects.
Indeed, Việt Nam continues to enjoy one of the highest economic growth rates in our region. Its young population, vibrant workforce, and rising middle class are Việt Nam’s comparative advantages. The government has also progressively reformed and liberalised the economy. It has built up a strong network of bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements, and advocated for agreements connecting our region such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. Such efforts will improve Việt Nam’s business environment, facilitate investment and open up new opportunities for foreign companies, including those from Singapore. Next week, Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang will co-chair the annual Connectivity Ministerial Meeting with Việt Nam’s Minister for Planning and Investment Nguyễn Chí Dũng in Singapore to review our bilateral economic cooperation.
Third, we have extensive people-to-people links which bring our countries and people closer. Over 16,000 Vietnamese officials have participated in training courses under the Singapore Co-operation Programme, more than any other country. Every year, the Initiative for ASEAN Integration Việt Nam-Singapore Training Centre in Hà Nội also provides courses in popular areas such as English, economic development, trade and tourism management to over 600 Vietnamese officials. As Việt Nam progresses, we will also update our programmes.
Our tourism flows have increased steadily with more flights and greater connectivity. In 2015, about 200,000 Singaporeans visited Việt Nam, while Singapore received about 400,000 Vietnamese visitors. With 142 weekly flights, and as many as 14 per day between HCM City and Singapore, it is convenient for us to visit each other with our families and friends. For example, I had the pleasure of visiting the scenic limestone caves and enjoying the cultural heritage of Ninh Bình at President Quang’s invitation, and also of spending a number of holidays in Việt Nam with my family and friends.
Our strong bilateral ties help our people gain a better understanding of each other, and send a positive signal to Singapore-based multinationals and companies currently investing or looking to invest in Việt Nam to tap on its strong growth potential.
Việt Nam-Singapore Industrial Parks
Singapore saw Vietnam’s potential early. In 1994, when then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong visited Việt Nam, then Prime Minister Kiệt suggested to develop a Singapore-style industrial park. Mr Goh readily agreed and two years later, a Singapore consortium led by SembCorp cooperated with Becamex IDC Corporation to set up the first Việt Nam-Singapore Industrial Park (VSIP) in Bình Dương.
The success of this first VSIP paved the way for more VSIPs in other parts of Việt Nam. Twenty years later, we now have seven VSIPs in North, Central and South Việt Nam. Two of them, in Hải Dương and Nghệ An, were launched just last year. To date, the VSIPs have attracted investments worth over US$9 billion, with around 600 companies providing jobs for more than 170,000 workers. I am happy that Singapore and the VSIPs have been able to play a part in Việt Nam’s economic development. And the MOUs between VSIP and the officials in Bình Dương and Bắc Ninh will allow the VSIPs to continue exploring new opportunities in these provinces.
The VSIPs have evolved over the years to cater to Việt Nam’s changing needs. From the initial industrial parks, the VSIPs today are integrated townships that attract higher value-added industries and skilled manpower. As Vietnam’s economy moves up the value chain, the VSIPs can be test-beds for new areas such as urban solutions and high-technology manufacturing.
The strong support from the Vietnamese central and provincial governments over the past 20 years has been crucial for their success. I thank the Vietnamese Government and I hope that the VSIPs will continue to receive the strong backing of the local Vietnamese authorities who provide good infrastructure, clear rules and favourable incentives to encourage investments.
I wish the VSIPs every success. And that they continue to contribute to Việt Nam’s growth and prosperity, as well as to the strong co-operation between Singapore and Việt Nam for many more years to come.