SINGAPORE: Singapore and Vietnam are discussing ways they can prepare to "gradually and safely" resume business travel and travel to "selected tourist sites", said Singapore's Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Wednesday (Jun 23).
Dr Balakrishnan said this will "hopefully" be done by the end of the year. The minister was wrapping up his four-day visit to Hanoi. It marked the first visit to Vietnam by a Singapore minister since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While both countries share a "very similar" tactical approach to COVID-19, the key difference lies in their vaccination progress, said Dr Balakrishnan.
"We are very fortunate in Singapore, because our vaccination programme is well underway, whereas (in Vietnam), they still need to source more vaccines from overseas in order to roll out vaccinations," he said.
"But the key thing first is Vietnam needs some time to step up its vaccination programme so we will wait for them to be ready," he added.
"But in the meantime, we are working at the staff level to resolve things like mutual recognition of vaccine certificates, testing as well ... and to build up the level of confidence in each other's systems. This is essential before we open up."
As of Jun 21, Singapore has administered more than 5 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines, according to the Ministry of Health's website. More than 2.9 million people have received at least one dose of a vaccine.
READ: Singapore’s COVID-19 vaccination rates ‘not high enough’ to provide sufficient protection: Lawrence Wong
When asked if there were any benchmarks that have to be achieved before resuming leisure travel between the two countries, Dr Balakrishnan said no specific thresholds have been defined and that Vietnam is being "very careful" as they need to step up their vaccination programme.
Both countries have discussed a "selective opening" of some of Vietnam's tourism sites, said Dr Balakrishnan.
"They are exploring whether to do perhaps a trial, opening one or some of these sites, later on in this year and I've expressed our support," he added.
"I know many Singaporeans do want to resume travel, but please be patient, we want to open up (safely)."
In the meantime, both countries will work together on resolving issues surrounding vaccine certificates and testing results to build up the level of confidence in each other's systems.
This is essential before the countries open up and "liberalise travel later on", said Dr Balakrishnan.
He added that Vietnam has also expressed interest in some of Singapore's technologies, such as the breathalyser test for quick, rapid identification of people who may have COVID-19. The minister said Singapore will help Vietnam to source these new technologies.
READ: Singapore firm that developed COVID-19 breath test pivoted from detecting lung cancer to coronavirus
The next few months will be crucial, as Singapore and other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries step up their vaccination programmes, said Dr Balakrishnan.
"The key thing is to prepare for recovery. Get our systems interoperable, get our economies restructured, restart, reboot, get the jobs, and then look forward, to a much better year next year," he said.
"And at the same time, maintain global peace and build those relationships."
During his visit, Dr Balakrishnan also met Vietnam President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, as well as Hanoi Party Secretary Dinh Tien Dung and Chairman of the Communist Party of Vietnam Commission for External Relations Le Hoai Trung.
In his meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Pham, both parties expressed their commitment to strengthen economic and financial cooperation under the Singapore-Vietnam Strategic Partnership, which will mark its 10th anniversary in 2023, said Singapore's Foreign Affairs Ministry (MFA) in a statement.
Singapore is currently one of Vietnam’s top foreign investors, with a cumulative investment of more than US$56 billion in more than 2,600 projects, added the MFA.
They also discussed regional developments, including ASEAN and the importance of deepening economic integration through the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
In his remarks during the High Level Opening of the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) High Level Policy Dialogue, Dr Balakrishnan emphasised that cooperation between Asia and Europe remains "indispensable" in the face of increasingly complex transboundary challenges such as climate change, cybersecurity, and COVID-19.
He highlighted the importance of global governance, integrating economics and maintaining free trade amid present challenges. He also underscored ASEM’s crucial role in supporting multilateralism and global governance in the wake of recovery from the pandemic.