SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): Singapore and Laos are stepping up cooperation in emerging areas such as energy, digital, sustainability and environmental protection as they mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations in 2024.
On Wednesday (Sept 28), four memoranda of understanding (MoUs) between the two countries were signed and exchanged at the Istana.
This was witnessed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Laos Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh, who was in Singapore for his first official visit at the invitation of PM Lee.
The MoU on energy cooperation includes renewable energy deployment in Laos, the development of regional power grids and grid interconnections for cross-border electricity trade, as well as the development of systems and procedures to measure, report and verify renewable energy.
It was signed by Dr Tan See Leng, Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Trade and Industry, and Dr Daovong Phonekeo, Laos Minister of Energy and Mines.
The MoU builds on the successful commencement of the Lao PDR-Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore Power Integration Project in June. This is Singapore's first renewable energy import, bringing in up to 100MW of electricity from Laos via Thailand and Malaysia using existing interconnections.
"It will enhance cross-border electricity trading in the region, and enable countries in the region to decarbonise and meet domestic energy needs, while creating jobs and economic growth for the source countries," said Dr Tan.
"It is also a step towards realising the broader Asean Power Grid vision."
Another MoU, signed by Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu and Laos Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Bounkham Vorachit, enhances cooperation in environmental management and protection, water resources and climate change.
Building on an earlier MoU signed in 2018, the latest MoU will facilitate the exchange of knowledge and expertise, and create green growth opportunities for businesses.
An MoU on digital cooperation will cover areas such as data, digital government, cyber security, emerging technology, digital infrastructure and scams. This was signed by Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information and Dr Santisouk Simmalavong, Laos Deputy Minister for Technology and Communications.
Both foreign ministries also established bilateral consultations with an MoU inked by Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Laos Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Saleumxay Kommasith.
Earlier on Wednesday, PM Phankham received a ceremonial welcome at the Istana when he called on President Halimah Yacob and Lee.
In a Facebook post, Halimah said both countries have increased cooperation in new areas despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
They will deepen people-to-people ties to encourage intercultural understanding, build bridges and open up new opportunities for their people.
Lee, who hosted an official lunch at the Istana, said Singapore will be implementing a Singapore-Laos Enhanced Cooperation Package, which will include capacity-building programmes geared towards supporting Laos' Asean chairmanship in 2024.
He noted there are other areas that both countries can do more together, including urban planning and logistics.
"As fellow small states, we share an interest in maintaining regional peace and stability, and upholding an open and inclusive, rules-based multilateral system," said Lee.
Both countries also put heavy emphasis on human capital development and people-to-people exchanges, he said.
To this end, Singapore has hosted more than 15,000 officials from Laos through the Singapore Cooperation Programme, which marks its 30th anniversary in 2022.
Singapore has also welcomed Laos students to study here under its Asean scholarships. This has helped Singapore students understand their Asean neighbours.
"Interactions such as these are crucial to deepening our people-to-people ties, which form the bedrock of our bilateral relationship," said Lee.
Speaking at the lunch, Phankham said he and Lee have agreed unanimously on the future directions of bilateral cooperation, which will cover a wide range of areas anchored on a mutually beneficial basis.
Both countries should keep up the regular exchange of high-ranking delegation visits and people-to-people contact to promote trade, investment and tourism, he added.
On Wednesday morning, Phankham and his wife, Sichanh Viphavanh, visited the National Orchid Garden where an orchid hybrid, the Dendrobium Phankham Sichanh Viphavanh, was named after them.
The two-day visit ends on Wednesday.