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Singapore, China looking at how to gradually resume travel links: Vivian Balakrishnan

Singapore, China looking at how to gradually resume travel links: Vivian Balakrishnan

Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan meets with China's State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Fujian on Mar 31, 2021. (Photo: Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

SINGAPORE: Singapore and China are looking at how travel links between the two countries can resume, Singapore's Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Wednesday (Mar 31).

Dr Balakrishnan was speaking at the end of a two-day visit to Fujian, where he met China's State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

"Now in a post-COVID recovery phase, we are looking at how - as both Singapore and China reopen the economy - we can slowly, gradually and carefully resume travel links as well," Dr Balakrishnan said.

"So some of the things which we discussed is the mutual recognition of health certification, and I want to emphasise that this goes beyond just vaccines, but into serology, into PCR nucleic acid tests and the rest of it.

"There will need to be verifiable, authorised sources of this information, and again we need to be able to exchange relevant subsets of this information in a way that would facilitate safe travel for all the people concerned."

READ: China launches COVID-19 passport

This comes after Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore welcomed China’s recent proposal on the mutual recognition of health certificates, calling it a "timely initiative" as both countries have begun vaccination programmes.

"These health certificates would be an important enabler for the safe resumption of cross-border travel while protecting public health," he told China's Xinhua news agency on Tuesday.

"It is important that we work together early to ensure that the systems are interoperable."

READ: Singapore, China to launch 'fast lane' arrangement with COVID-19 measures for essential business, official travel

Singapore and China already have a "fast lane" arrangement to facilitate essential travel for business and official purposes.

The arrangement applies to travel between Singapore and six Chinese provinces or municipalities directly under the central government - Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing, Guangdong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang.

Singapore has also unilaterally lifted border restrictions for travellers from China.

READ: COVID-19: Singapore to lift border restrictions for visitors from mainland China and Australia's Victoria state from Nov 6

Dr Balakrishnan said on Wednesday that Singapore had opened its borders to travellers from China as the latter's COVID-19 case control was "so good".

"We are confident that they can come across to Singapore, we test them (and) if they are clear, they can proceed with their activities," he said.

"China's obviously looking at our figures and the fact that we're making good progress, both in terms of case control and vaccination."

Dr Balakrishnan, however, said he was not ready to give a timeline on when more travel links between the two countries might resume, although he said the issue was "moving in the positive direction".

"I know that there are also Singaporeans who are studying in China who also want to get back, and I can assure them that I put in that request for them as well," he added.

SITUATION IN MYANMAR "DOUBLY TRAGIC"

Dr Balakrishnan's trip to Fujian comes after his recent trips to Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia. 

Last Monday, Dr Balakrishnan met Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Second Minister of Foreign Affairs Erywan Pehin Yusof. 

During the meeting with Mr Erywan, both ministers agreed that the ongoing situation in Myanmar was of deep concern, and urged all sides in Myanmar to seek a peaceful solution. 

Dr Balakrishnan said on Wednesday that he also discussed with his Chinese counterpart the "very troubling circumstances in Myanmar".

READ: More than 100 protesters killed in Myanmar as junta puts on show of force for Armed Forces Day

On Saturday, Myanmar's security forces shot and killed more than 100 protesters in the bloodiest day of protests since a military coup last month, news reports and witnesses said.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said it had confirmed a total of 521 civilian deaths by late Tuesday night, but warned the true toll was probably significantly higher.

READ: Peaceful resolution in Myanmar still possible if all sides can have genuine dialogue: Balakrishnan

"First, I will speak from a Singapore perspective: We are alarmed (and) appalled at the escalating violence, particularly over the weekend on what was supposed to be Armed Forces Day," Dr Balakrishnan said, referring to the events in Myanmar on Saturday.

"In fact (it) turned out to be a day with perhaps the highest level of fatalities. This is tragic, this is doubly tragic. Again, we air our voice to the military authorities to act with restraint, de-escalate the violence, commence dialogue, honest constructive dialogue between two sides."

READ: Singapore's Foreign Minister calls on Myanmar's military to stop using lethal force against civilians

From his discussions with Mr Wang, Dr Balakrishnan said he believes that China also shares Singapore's hope for the de-escalation of tension, halting of violence and the start of political dialogue.

"Both of us agree that we should still respect the principle of non-interference in domestic matters," he added.

"Ultimately, the fate and the future of Myanmar lies in the hands of its own people. We can try to help, ASEAN, the UN will certainly try to help in a constructive, non-interfering way, but in a way that allows dialogue to occur.

"So, we will have to do so carefully, patiently, and in a way which encourages engagement and conversation, rather than confrontation."

Source: CNA/hz(ac)

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