Singapore, Vietnam looking at easing Covid-19 travel curbs for business and leisure

Singapore and Vietnam are working on a mutual recognition of vaccine certificates and testing results to build confidence towards border reopening. PHOTOS: GIN TAY, AFP

SINGAPORE - Singapore and Vietnam are looking at gradually relaxing travel curbs for business and trips to selected tourist sites in the next few months, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Wednesday (June 23).

However, such plans will depend on how fast Vietnam can vaccinate its population.

He was speaking at a doorstop via Zoom at the conclusion of a four-day visit to Vietnam capital Hanoi, where he met newly-appointed President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chính and Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh.

Dr Balakrishnan said the two nations share a similar strategy to contain the pandemic such as the need for intensive testing, quarantines and mass inoculation.

Vietnam has also imposed strict measures such as shutting non-essential businesses and restricting gatherings even before it began to battle its worst outbreak.

That started in late April from a church cluster in Ho Chi Minh City and factories in the country's North.

Only about 2 per cent of its 98 million population are vaccinated.

"We have also discussed in the next few months, hopefully by the end of the year, how we can gradually and safely liberalise particularly on business travel, and perhaps on selected tourist sites."

"But the key thing first is Vietnam needs some time to step up its vaccination programme - so we will wait for them to be ready."

In the meantime, Dr Balakrishnan said both countries are engaged at the staff level to work on a mutual recognition of vaccine certificates and testing results to build confidence towards border reopening.

In new rules announced on Wednesday, travellers from Vietnam are subject to a 14-day quarantine in Singapore at dedicated facilities beginning on June 28, with a mandatory antigen rapid test on the third, seventh and eleventh day after arrival. Previously, they would have to undergo a 21-day stay-home notice.

Vietnam has suspended the entry of all foreigners except diplomats, investors, experts and skilled workers.

Dr Balakrishnan said Vietnam has also expressed interest in Singapore technology like breathalyser test kits, adding that the Republic will help source and evaluate.

On the Myanmar crisis, he said both governments reiterated calls for violence to cease and for dialogue to begin. "Vietnam and Singapore stand ready to do what we can without interfering."

Asean leaders in April agreed on a five-point consensus at a special summit in Jakarta, calling for Myanmar to stop violence and start dialogue with its opponents in a process that will be facilitated by a special Asean envoy, aided by the Asean secretary-general.

Dr Balakrishnan has acknowledged the slow progress so far, saying at a Special Asean-China Foreign Ministers' Meeting earlier this month that there had been "no real sign of meaningful political dialogue and negotiation".

The conflict, which started after the army seized power on Feb 1 and removed Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's elected government, has left at least 870 people dead, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group.

Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore and Vietnam share the same position that Asean centrality and unity must be maintained and that "it is even more important for Asean rules to be accentuated (in view of) the regional developments, global developments, superpower rivalry".

In his speech at the Asia-Europe Meeting's High Level Policy Dialogue on Tuesday, he emphasised the need to strengthen multilateralism and a rules-based system.

He described the cooperation between Asia and Europe as "indispensable" amid complex challenges like climate change and cyber security.

"Now more than ever before, we need effective multilateral institutions including the World Health Organisation and the World Trade Organisation. These remain essential avenues to advance our shared interests," said Dr Balakrishnan.

While he commended Europe for being a reliable exporter of Covid-19 vaccines, even when it has not fully inoculated its own population, he also highlighted the "great asymmetry" in the vaccination rate, with some countries achieving up to 80 per cent and others not even reaching 1 per cent.

He also envisions the same asymmetry in the pace of post-pandemic recovery. "We need to make sure that we do not end up with another stratified world in the way we recover post-Covid-19," he told the meeting.

Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan speaking during a meeting with Hanoi Party Committee Secretary Dinh Tien Dung on June 22, 2021. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement on Wednesday that Dr Balakrishnan and Vietnam's Deputy Prime Minister expressed their commitment to strengthen economic and financial cooperation under the Singapore-Vietnam Strategic Partnership, which will mark its 10th anniversary in 2023.

Despite the pandemic, bilateral trade grew by 0.1 per cent last year. Singapore has a cumulative investment of over US$56 billion (S$75 billion) in more than 2,600 projects, the statement noted.

This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the first Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park, which is said to have attracted US$14 billion in investments and created more than 270,000 jobs in Vietnam.

Dr Balakrishnan and Mr Pham Binh Minh also discussed regional developments, including deepening economic integration through the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

Singapore and Vietnam are among 11 countries that have ratified the CPTPP, a free trade alliance that came into force in 2018 after former president Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The two Asean countries are also signatories of the RCEP, another free trade agreement (FTA) that was signed last year between all 10 Asean countries and their partners in the region - Australia, China, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

The RCEP countries account for 30 per cent of global gross domestic product and have a population of more than three billion people, making the deal the largest FTA in the world.

Dr Balakrishnan's trip is the first by a foreign minister since Vietnam's leadership transition in April.

During the trip, he met the chairman of the Communist Party of Vietnam Commission for External Relations Le Hoai Trung and discussed ways to strengthen party-to-party relations, the MFA said.

Dr Balakrishnan also met Hanoi Party Secretary Dinh Tien Dung, with whom he discussed city-to-city cooperation in areas including urban solutions and smart city development.

"Concluded a busy and fruitful visit to Hanoi - a 1000 year old city with lots of history and culture. Was honoured to be the first Foreign Minister to visit after the new Vietnamese leadership was elected," Dr Balakrishnan said in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

"I look forward to continue strengthening partnerships, and deepening the reservoir of trust and goodwill which we have in Vietnam."

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