Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakhrisnan has rejected the Indonesian government’s request to reopen the city state’s borders to the tourist areas of Bintan and Batam in Riau Islands, which have been closed for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Indonesian Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Pandjaitan phoned Balakhrisnan during the former’s visit to Batam on Thursday, requesting the latter open Singapore's borders that serve as entry points to Bintan and Batam. He said the Singaporean minister agreed to review Indonesia’s request after Singapore’s general election, which will be held on July 10.
In a statement issued by the Singaporean Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday, the minister confirmed having had a phone call with Luhut a day earlier.
However, Balakhrisnan said Singapore was “gradually re-opening our borders in a progressive and calibrated manner while ensuring the health and safety of Singaporeans and our international visitors.”
“Presently, Singaporeans are still advised to defer all travel abroad,” Balakhrisnan went on to say.
He added both ministers had agreed on the importance of keeping up positive bilateral cooperation amid the COVID-19 pandemic, although “the call did not go into any specific discussions on tourism exchanges and cooperation.”
Singapore’s borders were closed in March to short-term visitors, which had impacted tourism and the economy in Riau Islands, which depends largely on tourists from Singapore. 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.
The province, with more than 1,000 islands, places second for foreign tourist arrivals in Indonesia, after Bali. It attracted 2.59 million international visitors in 2019, almost half of whom – or 47 percent – were from Singapore. (aly)