Singapore and China to fast track essential travel between them by early next month

This is the first green lane arrangement between Singapore and another country. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - Singapore and China will launch a "fast lane" arrangement early next month to facilitate essential travel for business and official purposes between the two countries, as they emerge from the coronavirus pandemic with control measures in place.

The arrangement would first apply to Singapore and six provinces or municipalities directly under the Chinese central government - Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing, Guangdong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang, said Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in a statement on Friday night (May 29).

This arrangement will be gradually expanded to the other Chinese provinces and municipalities.

The Straits Times understands that this is the first green lane arrangement between Singapore and another country.

Both countries agreed to explore the increase of air links between them as part of the fast lane, following a video conference meeting between Mr Chee Wee Kiong, Permanent Secretary of Singapore's MFA, and China's Vice-Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui on Thursday (May 28).

The second China-Singapore Joint Meeting on Covid-19 was also attended by education, trade and industry, customs, immigration, transport and health representatives on both sides.

Both countries stressed the importance of securing the connectivity of production and supply chains, and agreed to improve the efficiency of freight linkages and customs clearance, including facilitating the flow of goods such as essential medical supplies and food.

They agreed also to advance cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative, especially by maintaining progress in the three Government-to-Government projects. These are to maximise the role of the China-Singapore (Chongqing) Connectivity Initiative-New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor, enhance financial connectivity, and strengthen third-party market cooperation.

Appreciation was expressed on both sides for the mutual support and assistance given over the course of the pandemic, including to the nationals living in each other's countries. Each will continue to provide support to these individuals for their medical treatments and stay.

The meeting also touched on enhancing the regional cooperation on Covid-19 prevention and control, and both countries showed support for the early convening of the Special Foreign Ministers' Meeting to implement the outcomes of an earlier Special Asean Plus Three Summit on Covid-19.

The control of the coronavirus, as well as economic and social recovery, has entered a new phase for both.

Singapore will soon relax its circuit breaker measures and gradually resume economic and social activities. China too, successfully held the sessions of the 13th National People's Congress and the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, "which further demonstrated its confidence and resolution in overcoming the difficulties", said MFA.

"Both sides agreed to further strengthen the cooperation so as to better serve Covid-19 prevention and control and the national development in both countries."

The two countries will soon hold the 16th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation Meeting, which is the apex bilateral platform between both countries, including on public health issues. It will be hosted by Singapore this year.

During a virtual press conference on Thursday, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said Singapore is considering allowing essential travel to resume.

The country is working on reopening its borders - establishing "travel bubbles" with countries where the virus situation is under control and having green lane travel arrangements with certain countries.

The idea is to have clear protocols in place, including the testing of travellers from Singapore to another country, and vice-versa, Mr Wong said.

However, he stated that this is still work in progress. "The conversations and discussions we're having with countries vary; some (are) at more advanced stages, some we're just starting," he noted.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern held a virtual meeting where they exchanged views on tackling the coronavirus pandemic, among other issues. Both countries will start discussions on the establishment of a green lane for the safe and gradual reopening of borders to each other.

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