S’pore FM urges China to restore flights, connections to pre-Covid levels

There used to be 400 flights a week linking Singapore and China, while there are just 56 now.

Tan Dawn Wei

Tan Dawn Wei

The Straits Times


Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan meeting his Chinese counterpart Qin Gang in Beijing on Monday. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS

February 21, 2023

BEIJING – Now that both Singapore and China have emerged from the shadows of Covid-19, priorities are to quickly restore life, business and exchanges to what they were before, Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has told his Chinese counterpart Qin Gang.

In their first meeting since Mr Qin was promoted from ambassador to the United States to lead the Chinese Foreign Ministry in December, Dr Balakrishnan stressed Singapore’s desire to see flights and other connections return to how they were in pre-Covid-19 times.

There used to be 400 flights a week linking Singapore and China, while there are just 56 now, he told Mr Qin on Monday on his first trip to China since it relaxed its zero-Covid policy.

“One of the KPIs (key performance indicators) I have been set is to try to get this number back to what it was as soon as possible,” said the top Singapore diplomat, who is accompanied by his Senior Minister of State, Ms Sim Ann.

Earlier in the day, Dr Balakrishnan also met Beijing party secretary Yin Li and was hosted to lunch by the Communist Party’s international liaison chief Liu Jianchao. In welcoming the Singapore delegation, Mr Liu said Dr Balakrishnan is among the first senior officials to visit China after it had adjusted its Covid-19 policy.

“This gives us a wonderful opportunity for more frequent interactions between China and Singapore. The relationship between our two countries is very strong and we are expecting it to be even stronger,” he said.

China lifted most entry restrictions in early January, including scrapping quarantine requirements, though it is still not issuing tourist visas. A 15-day visa-free facility for Singaporeans has been suspended since 2020.

Similarly, Mr Yin recalled that the last time he met Dr Balakrishnan was two years ago in Fujian province at the height of the pandemic. “There were no handshakes and we were all wearing masks,” he said.

Now that the “overall situation is stable, with only very few cases here and there”, there is every reason to have more engagement and exchanges, he said.

On Sunday, Dr Balakrishnan met about 70 Singaporean businesspeople and students based in Beijing at the Singapore embassy. Some of the students had been unable to attend classes here in the past two years or so because of China’s Covid-19 protocols.

He said the top request from these Singaporeans was to restore full connectivity between China and Singapore and for the free movement of students, businesspeople and tourists on both sides.

Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan with Singaporean students in Beijing on Sunday. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS

During the two foreign ministers’ meeting, Dr Balakrishnan said the two countries had supported each other in the pandemic over the past three years and “deepened the reservoir of trust because we knew that we can rely on each other”.

Describing Singapore as an important partner, Mr Qin said global challenges and changes that are emerging have required China to “attach great importance to the China-Singapore relationship and to the unique role of Singapore in regional and international affairs”.

A statement by the Singapore Foreign Ministry said the two diplomats also spoke about the countries’ collaboration in three inter-governmental projects in Suzhou, Tianjin and Chongqing, and said they would step up cooperation in areas such as the digital and green economies.

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