See More on Facebook

Diplomacy, Politics

Malaysia and Singapore’s half-century old water fight

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Bin Mohamad says he wants to renegotiate the water agreement that has been one of the most acrimonious facets of the relationship between the two countries since they went their separate ways in 1965.


Written by

Updated: August 2, 2018

For more than half a century, the island-state of Singapore has relied on its neighbor to the north, Malaysia, to satisfy more than 50 percent of its water needs.

The arrangement is dictated by an agreement that was penned in 1962. Under that deal—which is set to expire in 2061—Singapore can import up to 250 million gallons of untreated water from Malaysia’s Johor River every day at a cost of .03 ringgit (about $0.007) per 1,000 gallons. Singapore is then obligated to sell a small portion of the treated water back to Malaysia at a rate of .50 ringgit per 1,000 gallons (about $.012).

The water deal has long stood out as one of the most acrimonious facets of the relationship between the two countries ever since they went their separate ways in 1965. To Singapore, a country with incredibly limited water reserves of its own, the issue is a matter of life and death. The country’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew once famously declared that “every other policy has to bend at the knees for our water survival”.

Since taking office in May, Malaysia’s new Prime Minister Mahathir Bin Mohamad—who previously held the office from 1981 to 2003—has signaled a desire to renegotiate the terms of the deal, potentially as a way to address his country’s national debt which stands at around $249.19 billion.

In one interview in late June, Mahathir called the arrangement with Singapore “manifestly ridiculous” and has said the deal is “too costly”.  He’s not the only Malaysian official to question the deal recently. On July 5 the chief minister of the Malaysian state of Johor proposed that the price at which Singapore buys raw water should be raised by 1,600 percent.

This isn’t the first time Mahathir has brought this issue to the fore. His comments hearken back to stances he took on the water arrangement when he was last in power. Previous attempts to review the deal have ended in failure.

In response to Malaysia’s water-related comments in recent months, Singapore’s leaders maintain that, while Malaysia may find the deal less than satisfactory, they are nevertheless legally bound to respect it. “Both sides must comply fully with all the provisions of these agreements,” a spokesman for Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in statement in late June.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


Quinn Libson
About the Author: Quinn Libson is an Associate Editor at Asia News Network

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Diplomacy, Politics

Brexit deal refusal to have limited impact on Korean economy

Seoul vows to speed up efforts for Korea-Britain bilateral trade deal, bracing for post-Brexit era. The British parliament’s latest rejection of the government’s proposed Brexit deal is likely to have a limited impact on global financial markets as well as the South Korean economy, Seoul’s government said Wednesday. Vowing pre-emptive steps to counter a possible fallout, Korean authorities will work on preparations for a bilateral free trade deal with Britain, as the latter will no longer be subject to the Korea-EU Free Trade Agreement upon Brexit. “The vote to reject the Brexit deal was seen to have a limited impact on global financial ma


By The Korea Herald
January 17, 2019

Diplomacy, Politics

Beijing rebukes French, German ambassadors

Beijing says award for Chinese lawyer is politically motivated. Beijing on Wednesday slammed the French and German ambassadors to China after they granted a human rights award to a detained Chinese lawyer, saying their wrongdoing gravely violated China’s internal affairs. The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that China has lodged stern representations and expressed strong dissatisfaction, as well as firm opposition, to the ambassadors’ action. The relevant case is purely judicial, which has nothing to do with human rights, the ministry said. The wrongdoings of Germany and France gravely interfered with China’s internal affairs and judicial sovereignty, the ministry said. China urges the ambassadors of relevant countries to do more to develop bilateral relations and enhance political mutual trust, not the opposite, it added. The lawyer, Yu Wensheng, was detained


By China Daily
January 17, 2019

Diplomacy, Politics

Singapore-Malaysia relations still ‘good’, says Malaysian Foreign Minister

Ties between Malaysia and Singapore are still “good” despite ongoing air and maritime disputes between the two countries. “Our relations with Singapore remain good. There are some issues but we are talking to each other, and that is very important,” said Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah on Wednesday (Jan 16), “Most importantly, the discussions are going on. I am confident the discussions are moving in the right direction.” He said five senior government officials will meet with their Singaporean counterparts to discuss ongoing issues. Besides Mr Saifuddin, the others are Transport Minister Anthony Loke, Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali, Attorney-General Tommy Thomas and Foreign Ministry secretary-general Muhammad Shahrul Ikram Yaakob. Both Singapore and Malaysia are currently locked in two separate disputes – over 


By The Straits Times
January 17, 2019

Diplomacy, Politics

China accuses Canada of double standard

Beijing slams Justin Trudeau’s criticism of drug smuggler’s death sentence. China on Tuesday expressed strong dissatisfaction at the Canadian prime minister’s criticism of a drug smuggler’s death sentence, urging the country to respect China’s judicial sovereignty and stop making irresponsible remarks. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing that drug crimes are recognized worldwide as serious crimes and are extremely harmful to the society. She said all countries severely crack down on the issue and so does China. Remarks made by a “relevant Canadian person” lack the spirit of rule by law, she said, urging the Canadian side to correct the mistakes and stop making irresponsible remarks. Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, a Canadian national convicted of smuggling over 222 kilograms of methamphetamines, was sentenced to death on Monday at


By China Daily
January 16, 2019

Diplomacy, Politics

South Korean defense paper doesn’t label north an enemy

Ministry also says the north has specialized battalion for assassination of key figures. The Defense Ministry does not directly refer to North Korea as an enemy and takes a less hostile tone toward the communist state in its 23rd white paper published Tuesday. The ministry’s latest biennial white paper — the first to be published since the Moon Jae-in administration came to power in 2017 — addresses security threats, military policies and the regional security environment. Perhaps most notably, the Defense Ministry eliminated the phrase specifically describing North Korea as South Korea’s “enemy,” a move that appears to reflect


By The Korea Herald
January 16, 2019

Diplomacy, Politics

Rohingya issue will not be solved easily

Bangladeshi foreign minister says the road to a solution will be long and paved with difficulty. The much-talked-about Rohingya issue will not be solved easily, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said on Monday. “I have directed to conduct a study on the Rohingyas which will try to find out the impacts of Rohingyas on our country’s social, economic and security system,” said the minister while talking to the journalists at his office in Dhaka. Urging the international community to step forward for a logical solution to the crisis, he said, “The international community has also responsibilities to solve the crisis. If Rohingya crisis is continued, interest of everybody including India and China will be hampered.” India and Russia are much positive over the Rohingya issue right now, the minister informed. About the resistance from several countries including China over the issue, he s


By Daily Star
January 15, 2019