Singapore hopes to be among first countries to resume cross-border travel with China: DPM Heng

ST20211215_202147718829 / pixgeneric / Samuel Ang / Generic pictures of people checking in/travelling at Changi Airport. Can be used for articles about travelling, Vaccinated Travel Lanes, Omicron Variant,
China was the largest source of tourism visitor arrivals to Singapore before the pandemic. ST PHOTO: SAMUEL ANG

SINGAPORE - When China is ready to resume cross-border travel, Singapore hopes to be among the first countries with which it restores greater connectivity, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Wednesday (Dec 29).

He was speaking at a press conference following the virtual 17th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC), co-chaired by Mr Heng and Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng on Wednesday.

The pair had held a bilateral meeting before attending the JCBC, an institutionalised, annual, high-level, bilateral platform overseeing and providing direction to Singapore-China cooperation.

Mr Heng said that he was glad to hear that Mr Han had expressed support for the safe resumption of cross-border travel between Singapore and China, in accordance with both countries' respective health protocols, and for officials on both sides to intensify discussions on this front.

A statement on Wednesday by the Prime Minister's Office said during the bilateral meeting Mr Heng also noted that the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and Singapore Airlines (SIA) were working with the Civil Aviation Administration of China to ensure smooth charter flight operations for the Beijing Winter Olympics in February next year.

Reuters had reported earlier this month that the Beijing Winter Olympics will rely on chartered and temporary flights to ferry athletes and other attendees, with commercial flights as a supplement.

During the press conference, Minister for Transport S. Iswaran said SIA will operate charter flights through Changi Airport, serving as a connecting hub for the region.

An SIA spokesman said on Wednesday that between Jan 21 and March 22 next year, the airline will operate daily scheduled flights between Singapore and Beijing for officials and athletes attending the games.

He added that the airline is unable to disclose figures due to commercial sensitivity.

Mr Iswaran said: "This is how we've been seeking to, on the one hand, maintain essential travel through the (Covid-19) pandemic and then progressively see how we can build on the connectivity to restore it to where it was before. These moves have been possible because of our strong friendship and mutual trust (with China)."

The hope is that this cooperation will eventually lead to greater confidence so that Singapore can work towards the safe restoration of air connectivity between the two countries, he said.

This is particularly important given that today, Singapore has only 10 weekly services to eight cities in China, compared with about 400 weekly services to 36 Chinese cities before the pandemic, he said. China was also the largest source of tourism visitor arrivals to Singapore.

He noted that despite the pandemic, the two countries have worked closely to maintain essential connectivity, such as being among each others' first partners to establish a fast lane - the reciprocal green lane - which allows for travel for essential business and official purposes.

Mr Iswaran said: "When you reconcile that with, for example, the scale of our economic relations, the business ties and, of course, the people ties, clearly there is scope to do more but it has to be informed by the public health risk assessment."

He added that at the JCBC meeting, he had emphasised Singapore's keenness to restore connectivity as quickly as possible and also work towards mutual recognition of digital health certificates - a key enabler for Singapore to be able to facilitate continued air travel connectivity.

"The Chinese government has responded positively, and has also expressed its commitment to advanced discussions in both regards," he said.

He said that a specific timeline could not be given as work on this front has to be informed by the public health risk assessment that continues to evolve.

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