Wall Street Journal – Vietnam and Singapore upgraded their relations to a strategic partnership to maintain stability in Southeast Asia.
This includes the South China Sea area where China has increasingly asserted sovereignty.
Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, starting a three-day visit, and Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Tan Dung said at a news conference that the relationship will improve cooperation in fields ranging from banking and finance to defense and security and education.
“We have agreed to boost defense cooperation and security between Vietnam and Singapore, by exchanging experiences and delegations between the defense and securities forces of the two countries,” Mr. Dung said.
Ties between Vietnam, a Communist-led nation of some 90 million people, and capitalist powerhouse Singapore, an island city-state of five million, have deepened since diplomatic relations were established four decades ago as the Vietnam War wound down. Top-level visits have been regular in recent years and Singapore has become Vietnam’s second-largest foreign investor, with 1,180 projects valued at US$28.7 billion. Trade rose to US$9.1 billion last year from US$8.7 billion a year earlier.
Mr. Dung said the two leaders stressed the need to coordinate with other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to promote a common voice in regional issues, including the divisive South China Sea.
China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan stake claims in the South China Sea, which includes the mineral-rich Spratly and Paracel Islands. Singapore isn’t a claimant but the tensions in the vital sea lanes are the biggest security issue in the region.
“On the South China Sea issue, Singapore expresses our view that this is an issue that should be handled with restraint, peacefully and in accordance to international laws, including the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea,” Mr. Lee said. “We believe that the freedom of navigation is essential and needs to be preserved forever.”
Carlyle A. Thayer, a regional maritime specialist at the University of New South Wales, said a strategic partnership, which gives a structure to bilateral relations, could assist Vietnam on the South China Sea because they usually contain a high-level mechanism for dialogue on strategic issues.
“But strategic partnerships should not be overrated,” Mr. Thayer said.”After all, Vietnam and the United States could not reach formal agreement on a strategic partnership, yet their agreement on a comprehensive partnership contains a new ministerial-level bilateral mechanism.”
Both Messrs. Lee and Dung praised the Vietnam Singapore Industrial Park Joint Venture Co., initiated by the two governments in 1996. The joint venture, 49% owned by Vietnam’s Becamex IDC Corp. and 51% by a consortium led by SembCorp Industries Ltd., U96.SG -0.39% has developed four world-class industrial parks in Vietnam that are home to more than 310 companies with total investment capital of nearly US$5.3 billion and 110,000 workers.
The leaders are expected to attend the groundbreaking ceremony for a fifth park later this week in the central province of Quang Ngai. The joint venture said it plans to invest US$337.8 million in it.