PM Lee and Australian PM Morrison to hold discussions over video link

A photo taken on June 7, 2019, shows Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a joint press conference at the Istana. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Australian counterpart, Mr Scott Morrison, have agreed to hold discussions via video conference in the light of Australia's tighter travel restrictions due to the coronavirus outbreak.

PM Lee was originally scheduled to visit Canberra on March 23, and meet Mr Morrison and other top Australian leaders.

Signings of important bilateral agreements will proceed as planned, Singapore's High Commission in Canberra said in a statement on Monday (March 16).

"This demonstrates the conviction of both sides that it is important to continue with the business of government, and maintain the good momentum of the Australia-Singapore Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP), even as we each deal with the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic," it added.

The High Commission said Mr Morrison called PM Lee over the weekend and they discussed Australia's enhanced travel restrictions on inbound visitors.

Mr Morrison had announced on Sunday that Australia would impose 14-day self-isolation on international travellers arriving from midnight on March 15, after a meeting of his newly formed national Cabinet that has been dubbed the coronavirus "war Cabinet".

On the phone, the two leaders agreed that discussions would instead be done via video conference, and for signings of bilateral agreements to go ahead.

The CSP was an agreement that Singapore and Australia signed in 2015 to deepen cooperation in trade, defence and people- to-people ties, among other areas.

It also provides for the prime ministers of both countries to meet annually to discuss cooperation and exchange views on regional and international developments.

Mr Lee's planned visit to Canberra reciprocates Mr Morrison's visit to Singapore last June.

Mr Morrison had visited Singapore as part of his first overseas trip after being re-elected prime minister in Australia's federal elections.

During that visit, the two leaders said at a joint press conference that Singapore and Australia were exploring new areas of collaboration such as in cyber security, food security and the digital economy.

Mr Lee had also noted then that joint initiatives under the CSP were progressing well. For instance, bilateral trade grew by brisk 25 per cent in 2018, while tourism had also picked up substantially that year.

Australia has put in place tough restrictions in recent days in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus after it recorded more than 250 cases of Covid-19 and three deaths.

On Monday, it also declared a state of emergency in Victoria, its second-most populous state; and the Australian Capital Territory, home to the capital city of Canberra.

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