Communication to be the balm in M’sia-S’pore bilateral spat


SINGAPORE • It is obvious that both Malaysia and Singapore are keeping their channel of communication widely open in their efforts to solve bilateral issues, although tensions escalated at times due to “exchange” of words.

Through numerous meetings, two bilateral issues had successfully been resolved so far.  One is the postponement of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail (HSR). The other one, last Friday, is on the airspace over Pasir Gudang.

Malaysia and Singapore, neighbouring countries located just a kilometre away from each other, are currently intensively working on solving a few other outstanding matters, such as the maritime border issue and the 1962 Water Agreement.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is scheduled to be in Malaysia for two days from today to meet his Malaysian counterpart Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the 9th
Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat (SMLR).

The latest edition of the SMLR was supposed to be held in November last year, was postponed.

However, Dr Mahathir was present for the 33rd Asean Summit and related summits out which Singapore, as the Asean chair, hosted for five days from Nov 11.

The eighth edition of the SMLR was held in the republic in January 2018. Dr Mahathir last Friday said both countries will hold discussions in a “friendly manner” on all unresolved issues during the SMLR.

Dr Mahathir and Lee will meet for the first time over SMLR platform, a vital mechanism to strengthen relations and find solutions for bilateral issues.

“It is good to continue with this tradition. Our leaders must come together from time to time to have a good heart to heart talk,” said Ong Keng Yong, executive deputy chairman of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at the Nanyang Technological University.

To his earlier exposure to the annual retreat format, Ong finds that the leaders are always able to use the opportunity to talk “directly and candidly over bilateral issues”.

“This particular process has been adopted over the past several years. Both sides see value in this,” said Ong, who was high commissioner of Singapore to Malaysia from 2011 to 2014.

“So that there is a bit more clarity and more predictability to working level, where officials now understand both positions and responses,” he added.

Ong, who is also the former secretary-general of Asean, expressed his hope that both countries can find solutions to manage the bilateral tiffs based on Asean’s “camaraderie spirit”, while minding a positive image of the 52-year old regional pact.

“When we have bilateral issues, let us find a way to resolve them. If we cannot resolve them quickly, we find a way to manage them.

“We don’t want to do anything that gives outsiders the impression that member states of Asean always quarrel among themselves.”

Singapore CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun said: “The fact that there is going to be a face-to-face meeting between both leaders is already an encouraging sign after the annual Leaders’ Retreat was postponed last November.”

On whether bilateral issues could easily be resolved as “exchange” of words had taken place, Song noted that at the end of the day “the resolutions will depend on how the two sides interpret legal documents or to take further steps on whether to seek third-party arbitration”. — Bernama