Thursday, 23 March 2017

PM Lee: Singapore's ties with Vietnam prospering

There are opportunities there, he says, urging Singaporeans to venture out into the region
By Joanna Seow, In Ho Chi Minh City, The Straits Times, 22 Mar 2017

Singapore's ties with Vietnam are prospering and there are opportunities for Singaporeans in the country, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

And as Singapore undergoes economic transformation, it is crucial to seize opportunities in the region in order to grow, he told about 280 Singaporeans living in Ho Chi Minh City at a dinner reception.

"If we are to prosper, we have to be able to go overseas and venture and take opportunities and uncertainties," Mr Lee said.

Deepening Singapore's international connections was one of the strategies set out by the Committee on the Future Economy in its report released last month.

Mr Lee added that Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City have progressed since his last visit to the city more than 10 years ago, and he hopes there will be more flights between Vietnam and Singapore.

He arrived in Vietnam yesterday morning for a four-day visit, and joined Singaporeans for dinner at the InterContinental Asiana Saigon hotel, where they tucked into favourites such as nasi lemak, satay and pandan chiffon cake.

There are 937 Singapore projects and more than 2,000 Singaporeans working in Ho Chi Minh City. "The fact that you are all here shows that the adventurous spirit in Singapore is alive and well," said Mr Lee.

One Singaporean pioneer in Vietnam is Mr Low Kok Chiang, 71, who runs an organic produce business with his son Patrick, 28.

They grow about 120 varieties of fruit and vegetables such as cabbage, tomatoes and kale in Da Lat city in the central highland region of Vietnam, and sell them at their two-year-old outlet called 5th Element in Ho Chi Minh City.

Another outlet is opening this weekend, and the Lows hope to have a third by the middle of this year. Their goal is to scale up production eventually so that they can export vegetables back to Singapore and open an outlet there.

"We see the Mekong delta as the last frontier for major food sources in Asia... and we want to make safe and healthy vegetables accessible," said the elder Mr Low, who has lived in Vietnam for 31 years and started growing produce in 2003.

Mr Patrick Low, who moved to Vietnam seven years ago after completing his national service, said they hope to expand their farmland beyond the current 4ha, which lets them harvest about half a tonne of produce a day.

"It is a challenging business if you talk about profitability, so it comes down to passion," he said.

Passion is also what drove Mr Poh Wei Ye, 33, to start an orphanage in the province of Vung Tau in northeast Vietnam. He grew to love helping street children after spending six months backpacking through the developing countries in South- east Asia seven years ago, after losing his mother to cancer. He and a local nun set up an orphanage, which now shelters 20 children.

"I want to see the kids able to continue to go to school, so that they don't have to work in a coffee shop or a factory and be trapped in the poverty cycle," he said.

Earlier in the day, Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee chairman Nguyen Thanh Phong called on Mr Lee and hosted him to lunch.

Both leaders affirmed the strong economic and business links between Singapore and Vietnam's commercial hub.

Singapore remains the top foreign investor in the city of eight million, with investments of US$10.2 billion (S$14.2 billion).

During their meeting, Mr Lee conveyed Singapore's continued interest in expanding investments in the city. Mr Phong updated him on plans for the city's development.

Mr Lee indicated that Singapore is happy to share its experience in urban planning and management, and thanked the city leadership for its support for Singapore and its businesses. Mr Phong said he looked forward to deeper business links with Singapore.

Singapore, Vietnam ink 6 deals to expand economic ties
They include plans to set up more industrial parks, subsidiary bank
By Joanna Seow, In Hanoi, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2017

Singapore and Vietnam signed six agreements yesterday to expand economic cooperation, underscoring the growing collaboration between the two countries since upgrading bilateral ties three years ago.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who witnessed their signing together with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, said he was happy that relations have strengthened through the strategic partnership.

"I look forward to continuing to strengthen our friendships and cooperation, as we strive to improve the lives of our people," he said at a dinner hosted by Mr Phuc.

The agreements were for cooperation in such areas as developing innovation and industrial parks.

Singapore was Vietnam's sixth largest trading partner in 2015 and third largest foreign investor last year. So far this year, it holds the top spot as foreign investor. Bilateral trade stood at $19.8 billion last year.

At a press conference with Mr Phuc after the signing, Mr Lee said both prime ministers had agreed to further discuss liberalising air services, as travel between Singapore and Vietnam is increasing in tandem with more intensive business links and tourism.

Mr Phuc said both sides would also work closely to promote cooperation in education, training, culture and tourism, among others.

Mr Lee is on a four-day official visit to Vietnam, which ends today. It is the first time Mr Phuc is playing host to Mr Lee since taking on his current position in April last year.

In his dinner toast, Mr Phuc said in Vietnamese: "There is an old saying in Vietnam: A single tree doesn't make a forest. We value our friendship with Singapore and we shall protect and nurture that friendship not only for our generation, but as a legacy for those to come."

Among the new agreements signed yesterday was an in-principle approval given to UOB by the State Bank of Vietnam to set up a foreign-owned subsidiary bank by June. Enhancing Singapore banks' access to Vietnam's financial markets will promote investment flows and benefit both countries, Mr Lee said, adding that he looked forward to the final approval.

Three other agreements involved Sembcorp, such as one between the Sembcorp-Becamex IDC joint venture and the People's Committee of Quang Tri Province to look into developing another Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park in the province. There are now seven such industrial parks across Vietnam. They have attracted US$9 billion (S$12.6 billion) in investments to date and employ more than 170,000 people.

Mr Lee and Mr Phuc also discussed security issues and the South China Sea. Mr Lee said that as Asean members, both Singapore and Vietnam share an interest in a rules-based international order to resolve issues in line with international law. Mr Phuc said both shared the view that countries in the region should work closely together to build the South China Sea into a region of peace, security and prosperity.

Both agreed on the need to uphold Asean unity and centrality.

Mr Lee also invited Mr Phuc to visit Singapore soon. Yesterday, Mr Lee was given a welcome at the Presidential Palace, and called on Communist Party of Vietnam General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang. He also met National Assembly President Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew's memoirs launched in Vietnam
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2017

HANOI • A Vietnamese translation of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's memoirs was launched here yesterday, on the second anniversary of his death. Called The Singapore Story: Memoirs Of Lee Kuan Yew, it was translated and published by Omega Books and the Vietnam Intellectual Cooperation Centre.

Mr Lee was the first senior Singapore leader to visit Vietnam in 1992, during the initial stages of the country's Doi Moi reform period.

He developed a keen interest in the country and close friendships with many Vietnamese leaders, including the Communist Party of Vietnam's then General Secretary Do Muoi, who visited Singapore in 1993, Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth Baey Yam Keng said at the book launch.

"Mr Lee had laid the foundation on which our excellent bilateral relations rest upon today... With this book, more Vietnamese friends will be able to learn about the Singapore story, deepening the understanding and relations between our peoples," Mr Baey said at the event held at the Hoa Binh Hotel.

Mr Baey, a member of the delegation accompanying Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on his official visit to Vietnam, highlighted how the book gives insight into significant periods of Singapore's history, including the Japanese Occupation and the lead-up to independence.

"Mr Lee led the country through the most difficult periods in her history and tirelessly worked to transform it into the First World cosmopolitan city-state it is today," said Mr Baey, who also thanked the Vietnamese government on behalf of the Singapore Government for supporting the project.

Vietnamese Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Dang Dinh Quy said in response that his country's politicians appreciated Mr Lee's honest and far-sighted comments. "Many Vietnamese leaders remember Mr Lee Kuan Yew as an honest and a long-time (friend), and appreciate his honesty and sincerity towards Vietnam," he said in Vietnamese.

He added that many readers, from leaders to young people, would find the books interesting and useful. "Nothing can connect two countries more strongly and for a longer time than the knowledge and sharing of cultural values," he said.

Remembering Mr Lee Kuan Yew

PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG, in a speech at an official dinner hosted by Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc:

"The Vietnamese language version of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's memoirs was launched this afternoon. It was a meaningful occasion and a meaningful day to choose because today is the 2nd anniversary of Mr Lee's passing. Mr Lee would have been very happy to see this close friendship between our countries and leaders flourishing beyond him, and developing from the foundations that he laid."

MR PHUC, in his toast at the dinner:

"(Mr Lee) was an excellent strategist of the Singaporean people and also a long-time friend of Vietnam. We will always remember that during the early days of Vietnam's reform, it was Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew who was very persistent in giving Vietnam valuable and sincere advice that inspired Vietnam to reach its success today."

Singapore, Vietnam to explore enhanced air services pact
Easing of travel, trade barriers has benefited both countries: PM Lee
By Joanna Seow, In Hanoi, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2017

Singapore and Vietnam will explore ways to strengthen air links between their countries and beyond, the outcome of which can benefit business on both sides, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Mr Lee and Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc had agreed there was room to further grow passenger and cargo traffic.

Speaking to Singapore reporters at the end of his four-day official visit to Vietnam, he also noted the easing of travel and trade barriers had benefited both countries.

Further measures in this area will strengthen both economies, he said in the interview, during which he also touched on the Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Parks and the need for substantive regional trade pacts.

Mr Lee said he raised the issue of liberalising air services with Mr Phuc because the traffic is growing rapidly in tandem with closer bilateral ties."I made the pitch to him that we should enhance the air services agreement... because that will develop the traffic further and develop the business further. He was receptive, so we will talk to their officials.

"I hope we will make progress."

Every year, about 400,000 Vietnamese travel to Singapore and 250,000 Singaporeans head to Vietnam, and flights between the two countries are often full.

Mr Lee added that flights beyond the two countries - known as fifth and sixth freedom flights - should also be looked at as part of the pact.

The two PMs, who met on Thursday, asked their officials to work closely on regional forums such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which Vietnam is chairing this year, and Asean, which Singapore will chair next year.

They agreed to promote Asean's solidarity, unity and centrality and build capacity for member nations to deal with traditional and non- traditional security challenges.

They also discussed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) pacts.

Both countries are part of the multilateral trade agreements, and Mr Lee said he encouraged Vietnam to take a "forward-leaning approach" towards the RCEP, which is being negotiated among the 10 Asean nations and China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

The United States has withdrawn from the 12-nation TPP, effectively putting the deal in limbo. But the rest, including Japan, are trying to find a way forward for the pact.

"The TPP is important, but it is not the only way to promote trade liberalisation. The RCEP is another important path and we hope we will have a substantive RCEP."

Meanwhile, Singapore will ratify the TPP, said Mr Lee. This hinges on Singapore being able to reap the benefits of the pact in a timely way.

Responding to media queries, the Trade and Industry Ministry said that at a recent meeting in Chile, the TPP parties "reaffirmed our commitment to a rules-based international trading system".

Singapore looks forward "to working with the others to making this happen, including continuing with preparations for domestic ratification", its statement added.

The TPP ministers will gather again in May at an Apec meeting.

Vietnam, however, has deferred its ratification but is watching other partners' actions, including that of the US, Mr Lee said.

Other regional issues discussed included the South China Sea. It was not the visit's main focus but it was covered, he said.

A major part of bilateral ties, however, is economic cooperation.

Six agreements were signed during Mr Lee's visit, including a possible eighth joint industrial park and an innovation park.

Such parks help attract Singapore companies to Vietnam because the environment is familiar and includes other Singapore firms with similar work styles, Mr Lee said. "It is a way of going overseas as Singapore Inc, because it is the whole team."

UOB is set to get a banking licence by June, and this will further promote investments from Singapore to Vietnam, he added.

Singapore industrialists, retailers and food entrepreneurs feel opportunities are good in Vietnam, he said. "They know this is a developing economy, so not everything is perfect... (but) you can achieve success if you are willing to venture."

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