The Indonesian government has asked Singapore to soon reopen its borders, particularly those that connect the city state to the tourist areas of Bintan and Batam in Riau Islands, which have been closed for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his visit to Batam on Thursday, Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Pandjaitan made a phone call with Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakhrisnan, requesting the latter to reopen the Singaporean borders that serve as entry points to Bintan and Batam.
The senior minister said Vivian agreed to review Indonesia's request after Singapore’s general election, which will be held on July 10.
“I had a phone call with Foreign Minister Vivian because there was a request from Lagoi, Bintan, that they are ready to receive tourists as they now have zero COVID-19 cases," Luhut said. "Vivian mentioned that after [Singapore] concludes the general election, they will review [our request] and they will probably send tourists back here afterward."
Singapore’s borders closed in March to short-term visitors.
The Singapore’s Consul General in Batam said the city-state would close access in and out until December this year.
Border closures have impacted tourism and the economy in Riau Islands, which depends largely on Singaporean tourists.
Malls in Batam have been a lot quieter than usual, as ferry operators serving the Batam-Singapore route have reduced the number of trips due to plummeting passenger numbers.
Batam's shopping centers are popular stopovers for Singaporeans who visit Batam to buy what they need before going back home across the Singapore Strait.
Riau Islands, with more than 1,000 islands, places second for foreign tourist arrivals in Indonesia, after Bali.
In 2019, Riau Islands attracted 2.59 million international visitors, almost half of whom (47 percent) were from Singapore. China came in second, providing Riau Islands with 260,000 foreign tourists, accounting for 10 percent of the total number of foreign visits.
Batam contributed almost three-quarters of Riau Islands’ foreign tourist arrivals at 1.76 million, followed by Bintan at 575,000 and Tanjungpinang at 154,000.
Separately, Batam Mayor Muhammad Rudi said on Thursday that he had asked Batam’s representative office for the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin) to lobby the Singaporean Health Ministry to provide them with a clear picture of when the border connecting Batam and Singapore would be reopened.
“If Singapore, and perhaps also Malaysia, are all good [to reopen borders], of course, there will be requirements, including health protocols. We will soon [fulfill] that,” Rudi said.
The Batam administration also contacted the Indonesian mission in Singapore about the issue of reopening the international ferry route connecting the two countries.
Rudi acknowledged that the route was vital for the economy of Batam, and Riau Islands in general.
“For the last three or four months, for instance, Singaporeans have not been entering Batam and we are already scrambling as the tourism sector is completely shut down,” said Rudi while thanking other industries for keeping the economy running.
Rudi said he had conveyed this concern to Luhut, requesting for this matter to be prioritized. (asp)
Editor’s note: A previous version of the article misquoted a statement from the Singapore’s Consul General in Batam. We have corrected the quote.