PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Joint Press Conference with Malaysian PM Dato' Sri Ismail Sabri Yaakob

SM Lee Hsien Loong | 29 November 2021

PM Lee Hsien Loong's at the Joint Press Conference with Malaysian PM Dato’ Sri Ismail Sabri Yaakob on 29 November 2021.

I am very happy today to welcome PM Ismail Sabri to Singapore. We have spoken several times on the phone since he became PM, and I am very glad that we are finally able to person-to -person. I have enjoyed good relations with his predecessors, most recently with former PM Muhyiddin Yassin. I look forward to building equally strong relations with PM Ismail Sabri, and continuing to strengthen our bilateral ties and cooperation.

Singapore and Malaysia are close neighbours with a shared history. Our economies are extensively intertwined. Our peoples share strong bonds of kinship, friendship, and memories. So the closing of borders was very tough on both sides.

Despite closing the borders during the pandemic, Singapore and Malaysia continued to work very closely with one another. We worked hard to maintain essential business and official travel. We implemented schemes such as the Reciprocal Green Lane, the Periodic Commuting Agreement (PCA) for workers, and arrangements for urgent compassionate travel. PM Ismail Sabri was instrumental in making these happen, when he previously co-chaired the Singapore-Malaysia Special Working Committee on COVID-19.

The COVID-19 situation in both countries is now stabilising. Both have made good progress in vaccinating our populations. Hence it is timely for us to reopen our borders, progressively and safely.

I am very pleased to launch the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) (Land) with PM Ismail Sabri this morning. The VTL (Land) connects Singapore and Johor. Many people live in Johor but work in Singapore, or vice versa. Most of them have not been home for a long time. The VTL (Land) will allow them to reunite with their loved ones.

The VTL (Air) between Changi Airport and Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) also commenced today. It will strengthen our economic and business linkages and restore people-to-people ties.

We will start the VTLs with modest numbers. It will take some time before we can get anywhere near to pre-COVID levels. But we will progress step by step, and get it working first. As the situation stabilises, we will raise the travel volumes. We aim to expand the VTL(Land) to include general travellers (not citizens and long term residents) from mid-December 2021 onwards, taking into account the public health situation. I also discussed with PM Ismail Sabri about a VTL scheme and resuming port calls by Singapore cruise ships to Malaysian ports. We agreed to work towards aligning safe cruise standards and start discussions on these matters on piloting port calls between Singapore and Malaysia, and also possible VTL for travel between Tanah Merah terminal, and Desaru, Johor.

Of course all this is COVID-19 permitting, because we are all watching anxiously the new omicron variant, to see how it will behave. But even if omicron disrupts these plans, our goal will still be to have more open borders between Singapore and Malaysia, and I am quite confident that after some time we will be able to make further progress.

PM Ismail Sabri and I also discussed other areas of collaboration. For example, the Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link Project. Construction is ongoing and we look forward to RTS commencing passenger-service by end-2026. Singapore also continues to support the development of Iskandar Malaysia. The 14th Joint Committee for Iskandar Malaysia will be convening next month and I hope that they will be able to take the project plan further. PM Ismail Sabri and I also discussed the Singapore – Kuala Lumpur High Speed Rail (HSR) and PM Ismail Sabri suggested reviving discussions on the Singapore – Kuala Lumpur High Speed Rail (HSR). I responded that Singapore and Malaysia had previously reached agreement to terminate the HSR project, and this has been amicably settled and closed. Nevertheless, Singapore is open to fresh proposals from Malaysia on the HSR project. The two ministries of transport will discuss the matter, and Singapore looks forward to receiving more details from Malaysia, so that we can study and consider the matter starting from a clean slate.

Singapore and Malaysia also cooperate closely within ASEAN and our broader region. Just this month, PM Ismail Sabri and I took part in the APEC Leaders’ Meeting, the ASEAN-China Special Summit and the 13th Asia-Europe Meeting Summit.

PM Ismail Sabri and I also touched briefly on a range of other bilateral issues. Several of them have existed for some time. It is natural for such issues to exist between close neighbours with extensive ties with one another. I told PM Ismail Sabri that Singapore will continue to approach these issues constructively and we agreed that we would discuss them in more detail at a later time.

Once again, I am glad that I had the opportunity to meet with PM Ismail Sabri today, and to reaffirm the strong bilateral ties between Singapore and Malaysia. I look forward to hosting him for a Leaders’ Retreat hopefully early next year, where we will explore possible further collaboration, and build on our discussions today.

Thank you very much.