S'pore wants more open borders with M'sia, even if new variant disrupts plans to expand VTLs: PM Lee

Both prime ministers discussed the possibility of having a sea VTL.

Faris Alfiq | November 29, 2021, 03:19 PM

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Even if the new Omicron variant disrupts plans to expand the Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTL) via land crossings to include general travellers from mid-December 2021 onwards, Singapore's goal is still to have more open borders between Singapore and Malaysia, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

Speaking during a joint press conference with Malaysia's Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yakob on Nov. 29 that was streamed live on his Facebook page, PM Lee said, "I'm quite confident that after some time, we will be able to make further progress."

PM Lee added that even as borders were closed during the Covid-19 pandemic, Singapore and Malaysia "continued to work very closely with one another".

For instance, both sides have worked hard to maintain essential business and official travel by implementing the Reciprocal Green Lane, the Periodic Commuting Agreement (PCA) for workers, and arrangements for urgent compassionate travel.

Sea VTL discussed

PM Lee also shared that in his meeting with his Malaysian counterpart, they discussed the possibility of having a VTL via sea, and resuming port calls by Singapore cruise ships to Malaysian ports.

He said that both countries agreed to work towards aligning safe cruise standards, and start discussions on these matters, including piloting port calls between Singapore and Malaysia, and a possible VTL to travel between Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal and Desaru in Johor.

However, all these are dependent on the Covid-19 situation.

"We are all watching anxiously to see what the omicron variant of the Covid-19 does and how it will behave," PM Lee said.

Will take time for travel to reach pre-pandemic levels

PM Lee added that he was pleased to launch the land VTL with his Malaysian counterpart earlier this morning.

"Many people live in Johor, but they work in Singapore, or vice versa," he said, adding that most have not been home for a long time.

The VTL (land), he said, will allow them to reunite with their loved ones.

Other than the commencement of VTL for land crossing, Nov. 29 also marked the commencement of VTL air between Changi Airport and Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

He said that the air VTL "will strengthen our economic and business links and restore people-to-people ties".

PM Lee noted that the VTLs will start with modest numbers, and it will take some time before both countries get anywhere near to pre-Covid levels of travelling.

"But let us progress step by step and get it working first," he said.

Ismail Sabri suggested reviving HSR discussion

PM Lee added that he and Ismail Sabri had discussed other areas of collaboration, including the Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link Project and the development of Iskandar Malaysia.

PM Lee shared that Ismail Sabri suggested reviving the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High-Speed Rail (HSR) project.

Singapore and Malaysia had previously reached an agreement to terminate the HSR project and it has been amicably settled and closed, PM Lee said.

"Nevertheless, Singapore is open to fresh proposals from Malaysia on the HSR project, and the two ministries of transport will discuss the matter," he added.

"Singapore looks forward to receiving more details from Malaysia so that we can study them and consider the matter again starting from a clean slate," PM Lee added.

At the regional level, PM Lee said that both countries are cooperating closely within Asean.

He noted that he and Ismail Sabri took part in the APEC Leaders Meeting, the Asean-China Special Summit and the 13th Asia-Europe Meeting Summit.

PM Lee looks forward to hosting Ismail Sabri for a Leaders' Retreat next year, saying that it will be a good opportunity to explore possible further collaboration and build on the issues discussed.

Good relations with previous prime ministers

PM Lee also said that he had enjoyed good relations with Ismail Sabri's predecessors, most recently with former PM Muhyiddin Yassin.

He added that he looks forward to building equally strong relations with PM Ismail Sabri, and continuing to strengthen bilateral ties and cooperation between both countries.

PM Lee noted that Ismail Sabri was "instrumental" in the schemes to maintain essential business and official travel when he previously co-chaired the Singapore-Malaysia Special Working Committee on Covid-19 with Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean.

PM Lee shared that both prime ministers touched briefly on a range of bilateral issues, and Singapore will continue to approach these issues constructively.

You can watch the joint press conference here.

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Top image adapted via Lee Hsien Loong/Facebook