January 17, 2019
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 territorial waters off Tuas and airspace management over southern Johor.
The disagreements were the latest in a string of bilateral hiccups since Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad returned as Malaysia’s Prime Minister following an unprecedented change of government in May 2018.
The dispute over maritime boundaries started after Kuala Lumpur, on Oct 25 last year, unilaterally extended the Johor Baru port limits into Singapore’s territorial waters off Tuas.
Daily intrusions into these waters by Malaysian government vessels since November have continued despite the Malaysian Foreign Affairs Ministry declaring that it would take “all effective measures” to de-escalate the situation on the ground.
Malaysia has also objected to the implementation of new landing procedures for Seletar Airport.
Last week, Singapore and Malaysia took steps to defuse their air and maritime tensions, with Mr Saifuddin and his Singaporean counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan reiterating their commitment “to preserving the vital relationship between both countries and to improving bilateral ties, on the basis of equality and mutual respect”.
A day later, however, Johor Menteri Besar Osman Sapian boarded a vessel in the disputed waters off Tuas, an act that resulted in the postponement of the Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia (JMCIM) meeting, which was originally scheduled to take place on Monday.
Singapore, which has formally protested against the intrusion, said his presence on a Malaysian vessel in Singapore’s territory had rendered holding the JMCIM “untenable”. Malaysia has maintained that he was in Malaysian waters.
Mr Saifuddin said on Wednesday that the channels of communication between the two countries remain open.
This was evident when Datuk Seri Azmin met with Dr Balakrishnan earlier this week despite the postponement of the JMCIM.
“We have always safeguarded our sovereignty and our independence. We just have to continue talking to our Singapore counterparts,” Mr Saifuddin said.