Singapore and Vietnam kicked off the first joint mission between their militaries, according to the city-state’s defense minister Ng Eng Heng on April 16.
In a Facebook post, Ng said the Singapore Armed Forces and the Vietnam People’s Army had conducted their first joint military medicine mission, providing basic health care, dental and eye services to residents in the Binh Xuyen district of Vinh Phuc province in Vietnam.
“The SAF and the Vietnam People’s Army are working side by side in the first practical cooperation on military medicine between the two militaries,” the post said.
According to the post, the two sides also shared knowledge and experiences with each other in areas of biodefense, peacekeeping operations and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The SAF-VPA Joint Medical Mission will be held until April 18, and the Singaporean delegation reportedly includes 24 servicemen and women from the SAF Medical Corps.
The joint mission is just the latest in a string of developments that have brought the two Southeast Asian countries closer together over the past few years. In September 2013, both countries signed a strategic partnership – one of only three that Singapore has established with other countries. That has increased the momentum of visits by leaders and officials, including Emeritus Senior Minister (and former Prime Minister) Goh Chok Tong last September and Singapore’s Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob earlier this month.
Areas of the relationship have also been strengthened even further. The main one often emphasized is economics, with Singapore ranking as Vietnam’s third largest investor and a major trade partner. But others are notable too. For instance, both sides have enhanced their people-to-people ties through several initiatives including facilitating exchanges involving students and civil servants. Cooperation in the security domain has included various visits and exchanges, but the joint military medicine mission is a notable first.
In an interview earlier this year, Singapore’s ambassador to Vietnam Ng Teck Hean seemed to suggest that there was still much more to come when he called the strategic partnership “just the first page of a new chapter in the Singapore-Vietnam relationship.” Economically, he suggested that the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015 and the Trans-Pacific Partnership – which both countries are in – would provide more opportunities for cooperation both bilaterally and globally. Perhaps the medical mission might be a sign of more ambitious things to come in the security realm of the Singapore-Vietnam strategic partnership as well.