PartnershipsSoutheast Asia

Singapore-Vietnam defense cooperation flourishing after 50 years

Tom Abke

Defense cooperation between Singapore and Vietnam has made remarkable progress in recent years, demonstrating their enduring partnership and solidifying their mutual trust and commitment to regional stability, according to officials. The Southeast Asian nations are commemorating 50 years of diplomatic ties and a decadelong strategic partnership.

At an early August 2023 news conference marking the 50-year milestone, Singapore’s defense attaché to Vietnam, Col. Bernard Ng Yu Long, emphasized the evolution of the nations’ defense relations. “We are longtime friends and close partners in many fields bilaterally and multilaterally. This is not a random result, but the outcomes of maintaining exchanges at all levels, from the government, businesses to the people,” he said, stressing the importance of cultivating trust among nations to address shared challenges amid global unpredictability.

His comments came just weeks before Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s three-day visit to Vietnam, where he met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and other officials and witnessed the signing of cooperation agreements, according to news reports.

Officials said the bilateral partnership has flourished through a framework of comprehensive cooperation, with defense ties a vital pillar. Key achievements of the collaboration include delegation exchanges, human resource training and ongoing talks. The nations also contribute to regional defense cooperation mechanisms such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Defence Ministers Meeting and the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting-Plus.

The nations signed a defense cooperation agreement in February 2022 that provides a framework for enhancing collaboration and solidifying shared commitments, as well as paving the way for deeper cooperation, according to Singapore’s Defence Ministry. Vietnamese Defense Minister Gen. Phan Van Giang and Singaporean Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen signed the agreement, underscoring the importance the nations place on their partnership.

At the 13th Singapore-Vietnam Defense Policy Dialogue in late 2022, senior defense officials from each nation outlined a comprehensive plan through 2025 to amplify collaboration in critical areas such as training, joint naval exercises, and coordinated responses to emerging challenges.

As maritime states that rely on seaborne trade and resources, Vietnam and Singapore share a strategic interest in preserving freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, according to the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, a Singapore-based research center. They also strive to guarantee that nations adhere to international law in the vital waterway, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Commemorations marking the nations’ half-century of diplomatic ties have included the visit of Republic of Singapore Navy Ship RSS Persistence to Vietnam’s Khanh Hoa province for an exercise in February 2023, and the participation of the Vietnam People’s Navy frigate Tran Hung Dao in the ASEAN-India Maritime Exercise and the International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference in Singapore in May 2023.

Tom Abke is a FORUM correspondent reporting from Singapore.

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