KUALA LUMPUR (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Thursday (May 19) that he hoped full connectivity will be restored between Singapore and Malaysia following the reopening of the borders between the two countries.
Air travel has resumed to more than 180 flights a week to seven destinations across Malaysia, about 40 per cent of the pre-pandemic flight connectivity levels of around 500 flights a week, said Dr Balakrishnan.
"We hope in the next few weeks and months to see a full resumption of air connectivity. On land, the Causeway and the Second Link have been opened.
"Especially over the long holiday weekends, there's been extensive flow of traffic - not quite at the level pre-pandemic yet, but I am sure that will increase over time," he told reporters on the last day of his three-day visit to Malaysia.
A new ferry service from Desaru is also being explored.
Dr Balakrishnan said that Malaysia and Singapore enjoy a strong and close relationship that has been able to withstand the Covid-19 pandemic.
Such a close relationship has also made it easy for Singapore to maintain bilateral ties with its neighbour, despite the changes in government since the 2018 general election.
"The strength of the bilateral relationship, the closeness of the interaction, if anything, has been strengthened, and the levels of trust increased by actual performance during the Covid-19 pandemic," he said.
"The fact that we could work together to support each other, and came through for each other in critical moments, made all the difference. In terms of the bilateral political relationship, it's strong, it's close, we are dependable."
During his visit, Dr Balakrishnan was granted an audience with Sultan Nazrin Shah, the deputy king of Malaysia and the Sultan of Perak.
He called on Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob and met Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah and chairman of the National Recovery Council Muhyiddin Yassin, who was the previous prime minister.
He also met Terengganu Menteri Besar Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar, secretary-general of the opposition Democratic Action Party Anthony Loke, Parti Keadilan Rakyat lawmaker Nurul Izzah Anwar and the chairman of mobile service provider Maxis, Mokhzani Mahathir.
During the interview, Dr Balakrishnan was asked if it was challenging for Singapore to develop and strengthen bilateral ties amid the uncertainties and unpredictability of the political situation in Malaysia.
While he acknowledged that Malaysian politics has been undergoing "a challenging and complicated time" since 2018, he noted that ties between the two neighbours spanned many years, and that he has known Datuk Seri Ismail and Senior Minister and Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein for almost two decades.
"These relationships have spanned both good times and tough times. So it's a relationship that is close," he said.
"Being friends, having a long history of interaction and engagement, ensures that we can communicate effectively without misunderstanding, and that we can collaborate effectively also and bring about the fruition of projects of mutual benefit. So all in all, I would still characterise our relationships as close, dependable, trustworthy."
Bilateral projects, including the Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS), for which construction is under way, as well as the aborted Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR), were also discussed.
He said that "good progress" has been made on the RTS, which would improve land connectivity between Johor and Singapore.
"We are looking at, hopefully, the establishment of full passenger services by the end of 2026," he said.
As for the terminated HSR, he said: "On the Malaysian side, they are exploring some new ideas."
He added that the Singapore government will await and study the new proposals.
Dr Balakrishnan reiterated that both countries have been reliable partners during the pandemic.
"The last two years have been difficult for people on both sides of the Causeway, but one key element which has come through is the fact that both Malaysia and Singapore have been steady, reliable, dependable partners throughout the crisis," he said.
Supply chains had been kept open throughout the pandemic, with the flow of essential services, food, medication and logistics maintained uninterrupted.
The two countries are also looking into new areas of collaboration, including high-tech agriculture, increasing food supply, the digital economy and the creative economy.