Malaysia, Singapore agree to resolve issues amicably

Malaysia to reclaim southern Johor airspace in stages and work on delimiting port limit claims

by ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN / pic by BERNAMA

MALAYSIA and Singapore yesterday struck a more conciliatory tone after the meeting of both leaders, a stark contrast to the political storm which had dented bilateral ties between the two neighbours in recent months.

The outcome of the meeting between Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his Singapore counterpart Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was largely positive with both leaders of South-East Asia’s key economies agreeing to seek amicable solutions to various issues.

Despite grievances over Singapore’s reluctance to agree on revising an ancient treaty on water supply, the 93-yearold Dr Mahathir described the ties between the two countries as “good”.

“At least, we are always on talking terms. When we have problems, we will air them, sometimes publicly and sometimes privately.

“What we have not done is we have not confronted each other or suggest that we should resolve our issues through violent actions like going to war with Singapore, and this is not a minor achievement,” he said at a joint press conference with Lee in Putrajaya yesterday.

“If you look throughout the world, most countries with problems with their neighbours will try to solve their problems through violence and through wars and in the end, both sides will lose.

“That is our relationship with Singapore. It is a relation between two civilised people who do not believe in violence,” Dr Mahathir.

While both nations are strategic trading partners, issues between the two neighbours have cropped up especially over water supply and international waters’ borders.

“We agreed that the fundamental principle is to resolve issues of concern in a friendly and constructive manner and work towards amicable solution.

“We have managed to resolve some of the immediate issues and we move forward now to find long-term sustainable solutions to these issues.”

Lee added that the relationship between the two countries is “rooted in our long history, and strong family and business ties”.

“This remains unchanged with the new Malaysian government. We have had more than 50 ministerial-level visits and exchanges since May last year. Today, Dr Mahathir and I affirmed our commitment to a cooperative and forward-looking bilateral relationship.”

Prior to the leaders’ annual retreat in Putrajaya, Malaysia and Singapore had agreed to resolve issues concerning port limits and airspace.

Both countries, “in the spirit of bilateral cooperation”, agreed for Singapore to withdraw its Instrument Landing System procedures for Seletar Airport and for Malaysia to indefinitely suspend its permanent restricted area over Pasir Gudang, Johor.

Talks are ongoing over Malaysia’s intent to reclaim in stages the airspace in southern Johor that was delegated to Singapore in the 1970s. The process is expected to begin by year-end and is expected to be completed by 2023.

Malaysia and Singapore also agreed to suspend their overlapping port limit claims and will now work towards delimiting the area via negotiations under an appointed committee.

In a joint statement, the two countries acknowledged, among others, the ongoing cooperation between both countries’ agencies and institutions, and in collaboration with the US and Switzerland, in investigating offences, sharing information on bank accounts, fund transfers and other transactions associated with the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) fund flows and recovering assets.

The leaders noted that the Singapore courts had ordered the return of S$15 million (RM45.38 million) of 1MDB-related funds to Malaysia, and that efforts to further recover assets are ongoing.

Singapore will host the next leaders’ retreat in 2020. Dr Mahathir and Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali have accepted Lee’s invitation to attend Singapore’s Bicentennial National Day Parade on Aug 9.