BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei and China have agreed to establish a “fast lane” that would allow essential business or official travel between the sultanate and select provinces and municipalities in China.

While the two countries announced the move on January 16, Brunei’s second minister of foreign affairs YB Dato Hj Erywan PDPJ Hj Md Yusof said the agreement will only come into effect once details have been finalised.

“We have finalised that agreement but have yet to decide on a mutual date to begin. At the moment, [the fast lane] is based on travel with specific provinces and not the whole of China. We will begin on a phase-by-phase basis,” he told reporters after the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat on Thursday.

Singapore also has a fast lane arrangement with China, where two-way travel is permitted between Singapore and Chongqing, Guangdong, Jiangsu, Shanghai, Tianjin and Zhejiang provinces.

Speaking at a COVID-19 press briefing yesterday (Friday), Brunei’s health minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar said there are still many details to be worked out before the agreement can be operationalised.

“The [details of the agreement] are still being negotiated… Because China’s population is so large, there are different levels of risk [in each province]. In some provinces such as Hebei there is community spread [of COVID-19} and they are under lockdown.

Heibei province, which surrounds Beijing, is currently seeing a resurgence in the virus with 800 new cases since the new year — a modest number compared to the devastating numbers seen in the UK and US.

“We will continue discussions to ensure which provinces are safe,” YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham added. “There are still a lot of negotiations to be carried out.”

China’s foreign minister Wang Yi paid a visit to the sultanate last week to hold talks with the Brunei government as the latter takes on the ASEAN chair this year.

In a joint statement issued at the end of the meeting, both countries said they would establish a fast lane, with a view to exploring the creation of a “green lane” — which would expand on the number of provinces included in the initial agreement — to ensure stability and security of industrial and supply chains.

China is also the second largest tourism market for Brunei, with arrivals from the mainland topping 49,000 in 2019.