Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan's engagements in Hanoi, Socialist Republic of Vietnam on 22 June 2021

23 June 2021

Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan is on a visit to Hanoi, Vietnam from 20 to 23 June 2021.


Minister Balakrishnan met Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh. They expressed their commitment to strengthen economic and financial cooperation under the Singapore-Vietnam Strategic Partnership which will mark its 10th anniversary in 2023. Singapore is one of the top foreign investors in Vietnam, with a cumulative investment of over US$56 billion in more than 2,600 projects. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the first Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park (VSIP). Minister Balakrishnan noted that the VSIPs have attracted US$14 billion in investments and created over 270,000 jobs in Vietnam. Deputy Prime Minister Minh and Minister Balakrishnan 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).


Minister Balakrishnan also delivered remarks at the High Level Opening of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) High Level Policy Dialogue (HLPD), alongside other ASEM leaders. Minister 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. Minister Balakrishnan 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. Minister Balakrishnan’s full remarks are appended.


Thereafter, Minister Balakrishnan met Hanoi Party Secretary Dinh Tien Dung. They discussed common challenges of local governance and urbanisation and agreed to bolster city-to-city cooperation, including in urban solutions and smart cities development. Minister Balakrishnan invited Party Secretary Dung to visit Singapore at a mutually convenient time. 


Minister Balakrishnan also met Chairman of the Communist Party of Vietnam Commission for External Relations Le Hoai Trung. Chairman Trung also hosted Minister to dinner. Minister and Chairman Trung discussed ways to strengthen party-to-party relations. They also had a wide-ranging discussion on international and regional issues.


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23 JUNE 2021









22 JUNE 2021, 1330HRS



Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


1        Our host, Minister Bui Thanh Son, made a very important point that the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) is indispensable. There are four reasons why this meeting, and this engagement is indispensable. First, we are transiting from a unipolar world to a multipolar world. In that multipolar world, Europe and Asia will play very significant roles. The second reason why ASEM is indispensable, is that we are still faced with this current emergency, this crisis due to COVID-19, and it will go on for some time. The third reason is that we are in the midst of a once in a lifetime digital revolution with a profound impact on jobs, society, and politics. The fourth reason is that there remains a clear and present danger of climate change, for which a global response is essential. And so, I submit that Mr Bui Thanh Son’s description of ASEM as “indispensable” is absolutely spot-on.


2        Let me quickly sketch out three challenges that we face. The first is to deal with the immediate crisis of COVID-19. COVID-19 is endemic. The possibility of it disappearing the way its predecessor, SARS did, 18 years ago – we have lost that opportunity. COVID-19 will be permanent in humanity and it will come back in recurrent waves. We need to vaccinate, to test, to isolate, and to improve therapeutics. And while significant and indeed unprecedented progress has been made – if you had asked me a year ago if we would have vaccines within a year, as a doctor I would have told you that it was impossible. But the impossible has occurred. What we are witnessing now is great asymmetry, for instance, in the distribution of vaccination. Asymmetry ranging from some countries’ vaccination rates of more than 70 or even 80 percent, and some countries with less than one percent vaccination rates.


3        The second challenge we face is economics. COVID-19 decimated economic activity across the world. Because we all needed to impose some form of generalised lockdown, there was a very heavy price paid by all our people. There will be recovery this year, but again, just like the vaccination story, we are going to witness asymmetry in the pace of recovery. We need to make sure that we do not end up with another stratified world in the way we recover post-COVID-19.


4        The third, and perhaps the most painful challenge, is to recognise the crisis of global governance. If we cast our minds back to a year ago and recall the missed opportunities, the failure to coordinate, and the way the virus was allowed to escape into our populations and become endemic, and the failure to coordinate at a global level, I am afraid history will judge this generation harshly. If that was not enough, we also witnessed disruption of global supply chains, xenophobia, racism, and rising hyper-nationalism. What we thought was an interconnected happy village in fact turned out to be the opposite. In the face of these current and ongoing challenges, where does ASEM fit in? I think there is quite a lot that we can do.


5        On health, the cooperation between Asia and Europe is absolutely critical. ASEM issued the COVID-19 Ministerial Statement last year, which reaffirmed our commitment to strengthening dialogue and cooperation. But it was not just about words and pious aspirations. In fact, when you look at reality, Europe and China were the largest exporters of vaccines in the last few months. I give credit to Europe for being a reliable exporter of vaccines and honouring contracts, even when Europe itself was not fully vaccinated. Europe needs to be commended for its commitment to a rules-based system of honouring contracts and its understanding that the world would not be safe unless all of us were safe. I am glad that we all supported the COVAX facility. Singapore was a co-founder of the informal Friends of COVAX facility. Vaccine multilateralism is essential.


6        On the economic front, ASEM partners have continued to do our best to keep our economies open, to integrate our economies, and to continue to stand for the cause of free trade despite the political opposition accentuated by the fears brought on by COVID-19. On this point, it is worth reflecting that in just the last one or two years, the eleven of us proceeded through the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) even without the United States. Vietnam and Singapore have ratified the CPTPP. I am glad that the United Kingdom has expressed interest in joining the CPTPP. And last year, ASEAN, China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) – probably the world’s largest free trade agreement. The EU signed a free trade agreement with Singapore, and a separate free trade agreement with Vietnam. And EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice President of the European Commission Josep Borrell would know that I have been encouraging the EU to explore an EU-ASEAN free trade agreement. In this day and age, standing up for free trade, negotiating, signing, ratifying, and trying to convince our domestic constituencies that free trade works and delivers for all our people is a political challenge. It is one which all politicians in this room need to fulfil.


7        Next, as vaccinations roll out and immunity levels around the world rise either by infection or vaccination – hopefully the latter because the mortality rates with infection cannot be ignored. The point is, the world will restart and our people will insist on resuming their lives. The question then is how we will reopen, allow travel, and reconnect our economies and our supply chains, and perhaps even build new capillaries. That means interoperability of our systems, mutual recognition of health and vaccine certificates, and the ability to verify across boundaries and across national systems. Speaking of connections between regions, I want to welcome the recent conclusion of the ASEAN-EU Comprehensive Air Travel Arrangement (CATA). This is the first time ever that two regions have signed a bloc-to-bloc air travel agreement. Given the battered state of aviation and airlines in the last one and a half years, I think this is a much-needed shot in the arm for aviation industries.


8        Another point – we do need to strengthen multilateralism. Not just because it is a nice-sounding word, but because we are transiting into a multipolar world. If we are to avoid repeating the mistakes of the last century, we need multilateralism and a rules-based system that works effectively. Now more than ever before, we need effective multilateral institutions including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). These remain essential avenues to advance our shared interests. And here again, ASEM leaders, because of our instinctive support for multilateralism and a rules-based system, can play an invaluable role to support these institutions. This is the only way which we can secure peace and achieve prosperity in a world which would otherwise historically be at a very dangerous phase of transition. We do need greater international cooperation. There is no shortage of transboundary challenges. We have climate change looming over us, and cyberthreats emerging. Just as we become more dependent on our digital systems, the cyberthreats and cybercrimes become even more critical threats to our way of life and prosperity.


9        Let me conclude that if you had any doubts, let me put them to rest. The engagement between Europe and Asia is more relevant and essential than ever before. I thank you all for your support over the past 25 years. Let us look forward to another 25 years with hope, confidence and solidarity. Thank you all very much.



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Photo 1

Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan’s call on Vietnam Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh

Photo credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore


Photo 2

Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan (left), with United Kingdom Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs Dominic Raab (second from left), Vietnam Minister of Foreign Affairs Bui Thanh Son (second from right) and Republic of Korea Minister of Foreign Affairs Chung Eui-yong (right) at the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) High Level Policy Dialogue on 22 June 2021

Photo credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore


Photo 3

Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan delivering remarks at the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) High Level Policy Dialogue on 22 June 2021

Photo credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore


Photo 4

Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan delivering remarks at the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) High Level Policy Dialogue on 22 June 2021

Photo credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore


Photo 5

Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan's call on Hanoi Party Secretary Dinh Tien Dung

Photo credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore


Photo 6

Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan's meeting with Communist Party of Vietnam Commission for External Relations Chairman Le Hoai Trung

Photo credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore

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