This year is a key milestone year for Singapore as we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of independence, or what we call in Singapore, SG50. Singapore's road to independence and journey towards nation building have not been easy, but our forefathers worked against all odds to transform a small country with limited natural resources into a successful city state.
But SG50 is not just a celebration. It is an important time for Singaporeans to reflect on our past and chart the course we want for our future. Singapore remains mindful that the road ahead will still be a challenging one. For one, our small size poses a constraint we consistently need to confront.
Singapore is and will always be a small boat or sampan - perhaps an upgraded one - constantly having to adjust to an ever-changing global environment. To extend this metaphor, a key harbour for Singapore is ASEAN. Building a cohesive, strong and autonomous ASEAN in order to maintain a peaceful and prosperous Southeast Asia has always been one of the cornerstones of Singapore's foreign policy.
This year marks a milestone in ASEAN co-operation through the formation of the ASEAN Community. We hope to continue working with our friends in ASEAN to strengthen ASEAN beyond 2015.
Within ASEAN, Viet Nam is a longstanding partner and friend for Singapore. To further cement this friendship, our two countries elevated our bilateral relations to a Strategic Partnership in 2013. This year, our Speaker of Parliament Mdm Halimah Yacob made an official visit to Viet Nam in April. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung is also in Singapore to attend our National Day Parade on August 9 to celebrate SG50.
Our economic ties are also excellent. Bilateral trade between Singapore and Viet Nam has reached US$15 billion, making Singapore Viet Nam's sixth largest trading partner. Singapore is also Viet Nam's third largest investor, with a cumulative investment of $33 billion invested in over 1,350 projects. In particular, the Viet Nam-Singapore Industrial Parks and OneHub Sai Gon Business Park have been iconic flagship projects endorsed by both governments. This year also marks the tenth anniversary of the Singapore-Viet Nam Connectivity Framework Agreement.
Government-to-government and economic ties are only one part of the Viet Nam-Singapore story.
People-to-people ties are just as important in strengthening our bonds of friendship. More than 420,000 Vietnamese visited Singapore in 2014 alone, which was a 14 per cent increase from the year before.
More than 200,000 Singaporeans visited Viet Nam, of which many are return visitors who have been attracted by the many beautiful landscapes in Viet Nam and the friendliness of its people.
Since 1992, more than 14,000 Vietnamese officials have participated in our training courses under the Singapore Co-operation Programme in areas such as public administration, healthcare and trade facilitation, either in Singapore or at the Viet Nam-Singapore Training Centre in Ha Noi.
The Singapore Government has also given out scholarships to outstanding Vietnamese students to further their education in Singapore.
Let me now share with you a true story of a Vietnamese student and his association with Singapore. Let's call him "Anh". Anh came from a poor family in Central Viet Nam. Many years ago, Anh and his father took a bus to Ha Noi. They had to spend the night at a bus stop because they could not afford a room. The next morning, Anh went for his test and was later called up for an interview at the Singapore Embassy. Anh performed well and was eventually awarded a scholarship by the Singapore Government. Upon completing his education, Anh returned to Viet Nam to start his own business and is now contributing to his country's development.
Anh's story epitomises the "Singapore Spirit". Coming from a humble background, Anh succeeded because he and his family believed in the value of education, and in fighting for a bright future for himself. Similarly, the Singapore Government has consistently emphasised that every child - regardless of race, language or religion - must have equal opportunities to realise his or her educational potential.
Every Singaporean should also be able to advance in life based on the principle of merit, and not because of family connections or wealth. The values that we cherish most in Singapore - hard work, self-reliance, meritocracy and multi-racialism - have served Singapore well for the last 50 years and will continue to be upheld for many generations to come.
The chief architect behind Singapore's development was our founding Prime Minister, the late Lee Kuan Yew.
While his demise saddened the nation, his legacy will continue to inspire us.