BEIJING: The new 30-day visa-free arrangement between Singapore and China will be “a plus in terms of Singapore’s interest”, said Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong on Friday (Dec 8).
Speaking to Singapore media at the end of a four-day visit to China, where he co-hosted a meeting of the top-level collaboration platform between the two governments, he noted that the new visa regime will make it more convenient for businesspeople, academics, students, tourists and those with family connections to travel between both sides.
“We think this will be helpful and this will be a plus in terms of Singapore’s interest. And that’s why we have decided to proceed with it,” he said.
During his visit, Wong co-chaired the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation with Vice-Premier Ding Xuexiang. It was announced that there will be a mutual 30-day visa waiver for citizens of both countries. The new regime is expected to be implemented in early 2024.
Currently, China passport holders have to apply for a visa to enter Singapore. Singaporeans can visit China for up to 15 days visa-free.
Wong said that stronger people-to-people exchanges will provide a much better foundation for both countries to enhance cooperation across a wide range of different areas.
“I think this will be helpful and positive for a longer-term cooperation between our two countries.”
Asked whether there are any concerns over opening up Singapore’s borders to Chinese travellers, Wong replied that this is not the first time Singapore is administering a visa-free regime.
There are more than 70 countries whose people can come to Singapore visa-free, he said.
This includes visitors from all Asean member states, Australia, Japan and South Korea.
“We have experience with it. Visa-free does not mean zero-immigration check,” he said, adding that there are systems at the back-end that will do the necessary checks.
Already, flights between both sides are full, and the first order of business is to bring them back up to pre-pandemic levels or even go beyond, Wong added.
“Visa-free does not mean that anyone can travel because you still need to get the flights to be able to travel,” he said.
“So even with (no visa requirements), the constraint will be the number of flights. That’s why the first thing is really to see how we can get more flights, more direct flights between Singapore and the various Chinese cities.”
Before the pandemic, there were some 400 direct flights a week between China and Singapore. Currently, flights between the two countries are at 75 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
Acting Minister for Transport Chee Hong Tat said there will be discussions with the Chinese authorities on how both sides can further increase the number of direct flights so they can first be restored fully to pre-pandemic levels.
“We have already received some requests from Chinese carriers to increase the number of flights during Chinese New Year in 2024. We will be happy to support this and we will see how we can facilitate the arrangements,” he added. - The Straits Times/ANN