SINGAPORE: The Chinese aerobatics team underwent “stringent” health checks to ensure they met Singapore’s criteria before being cleared to perform at the upcoming Singapore Airshow, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Friday (Feb 7).
The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) Ba Yi team is also “just as concerned” about the coronavirus outbreak in Singapore, Dr Ng told reporters on the sidelines of a visit to the Changi Airbase where he met some participants of the aerobatics display.
“The PLAAF had taken extra precautions for every member of their delegation that meet our criteria to make sure that they are healthy, well and they’ve passed all health checks,” he said.
The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) had revealed on Thursday that the Ba Yi team will go for regular health and temperature monitoring during its stay in Singapore.
This comes after the public expressed concerns about their participation in the airshow, given Singapore’s travel restrictions on visitors from China.
“I think it’s natural to be concerned, and they are just as concerned as us because we have cases here,” Dr Ng said.
“In fact just like other pandemics, whether it’s SARS or H1N1, once it goes to the community you can get it from anywhere.
“But we had been very careful, and the PLAAF has been particularly careful that they observe all requirements that were needed to be healthy, and they underwent stringent tests so I’m very thankful for that.”
Dr Ng said MINDEF stands by the health and travel measures recommended by the multi-ministry task force and public health experts tackling the outbreak.
Likewise the PLAAF, as with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), is “concerned about the virus spreading within their own ranks”, he continued.
“Like the SAF, they are making preparations to make sure that if there’s an outbreak, we can either prevent or limit the extent of the outbreak even within our military troops,” he explained.
“Because if you have a situation where your military troops are sick, you have an issue about national defence, so they have taken the necessary precautions and health checks and I was happy to meet them.”
Dr Ng said the Ba Yi team has brought with them “military discipline” when in Singapore, highlighting that their presence here is supported by Chinese defence minister General Wei Fenghe.
He said he had extended an invitation last year to the “famous” Ba Yi team to perform at this year’s airshow to commemorate 30 years of diplomatic ties with China. This was when he met Gen Wei last October to sign the Enhanced Agreement on Defence Exchanges and Security Cooperation with China.
“So, I’m very happy that they are here and that they put in so much effort,” Dr Ng said, adding that the airshow will proceed “for the time being”.
“Again, it’s a measure of how strong our relationship is. You know this phrase: Good friends stick through thick and thin.”
Nevertheless, Dr Ng said everyone is aware that many countries including Singapore are “grappling” with the outbreak.
“As in previous outbreaks, whether it’s an epidemic or even a pandemic, there’s a life cycle to the viral attack,” he added.
“We must be prepared for ups and downs, but at the same time, make sure that Singapore keeps going.”
During the visit, Dr Ng met and chatted with aircrew from the Republic of Singapore Air Force, the United States Marine Corps, the United States Pacific Air Forces and the Ba Yi team.
Fighter aircraft from the two foreign forces will perform in the aerobatics segment of the airshow for the first time.
In particular, the US' fifth-generation F-35B, which Singapore was recently cleared to buy, will take to the skies together with its equally stealthy F-22. The F-35B can also land vertically and take-off from shorter runways.
"It's a phenomenal aircraft," F-35 pilot Lieutenant Colonel Michael Rountree, 41, said. "Its capabilities are unique, it's absolutely game-changing. it's extremely flexible."
Lt Col Rountree said it was "very significant" that Singaporeans will be able to see its future jet perform in Singapore's airspace for the first time.
"We are very happy to be here to show these capabilities to you and hopefully strengthen our relationship with Singapore," he added.
After speaking to US, Dr Ng boarded a bus to where the Ba Yi team was assembled alongside its distinctive blue-and-red J-10 jets.
Dr Ng clasped his palms and wished them a happy new year in Mandarin, before a crew member pulled over a staircase so he could climb into one of the jets.
The minister, who had taken a group photo with the entire crew, spent a few minutes in the cockpit. He thanked the team for being here, after which the meeting ended in warm smiles, claps and handshakes.
“I told them to focus on the show,” he said. “It’s a high-end manoeuvre, high speed, (so I told them) to be strong, focused and I think they’ll put up a good show.”