President Halimah suggests more flights between Singapore and S. Korea

President Halimah Yacob (left) and South Korea's President Yoon Suk-yeol meet after his inauguration ceremony in Seoul on May 10, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL - Singapore President Halimah Yacob has asked South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol to consider allowing more flights between the two countries, noting that there is strong demand for travel from both sides.

"He told me that in a survey they did, when Koreans were asked where they would like to go when borders are open, they said Singapore," she told The Straits Times.

"So I said that the reverse is also true. When Singaporeans are asked where they would like to go, they put (their) number one (choice as) Korea."

Travel between the two countries resumed last November with the launch of a Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL). Some 10,098 Singaporeans travelled to South Korea in the first three months of the year, while 6,608 South Koreans flew to Singapore.

Madam Halimah, who had a bilateral meeting with Mr Yoon on Tuesday (May 10), said the VTL was a "good example of the level of confidence between South Korea and Singapore".

"Only when you have that level of confidence are you prepared to be the first mover, and it worked really well because it opened up connectivity and allowed trade and investment," she said.

The VTL was replaced by the Vaccinated Travel Framework last month allowing all vaccinated travellers to enter Singapore without quarantine. Since April 1, Korea has also allowed all fully vaccinated travellers to skip mandatory quarantine.

The pandemic did not affect trade and investment ties between the two countries, Madam Halimah said, noting that South Korea's investment in Singapore increased by 19 per cent last year, while bilateral trade increased by 26 per cent.

But as the number of flights was cut considerably she asked President Yoon to think about increasing flight volume "so we can continue to strengthen people to people relations, and that certainly will be good for both countries".

Mr Yoon agreed to "look into the possibility", according to Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

Madam Halimah is in Seoul to attend Mr Yoon's inauguration ceremony. ST understands that she was seated next to Mr Yoon during the banquet he hosted for guests at Shilla Hotel on Tuesday night.

At their bilateral meeting, the two leaders reaffirmed the warm and friendly ties between the two countries and identified various areas where bilateral cooperation can be further enhanced, such as green economy and digitalisation.

Both leaders welcomed the conclusion of the Korea-Singapore Digital Partnership Agreement and looked forward to its signing soon.

In his opening remarks during the meeting, Mr Yoon said he "studied the Singapore model" during his presidential campaign and he thinks there are many areas South Korea can benchmark against Singapore, such as education innovation and urban development.

"Mutual interest and understanding will greatly strengthen cooperation between Korea and Singapore in various fields in the future," he said.

Madam Halimah welcomed Mr Yoon's commitment to expand and broaden cooperation with Asean.

"We really need everyone to be focused on how to help the region as a whole to grow," she said.

Madam Halimah returns to Singapore on Wednesday. While in Seoul, she also visited the Seoul Finance Centre owned by GIC. Several Singapore firms are based there, such as DBS, OCBC and UOB banks, and JustCo, which provides coworking work spaces.

"Had a good chat with a few company representatives to understand how the pandemic had transformed their business model and created new opportunities," Madam Halimah said in a Facebook post.

"Glad that Singaporeans and Singapore companies are doing well overseas and flying our flag high."

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