Johor lawmakers say diplomatic row with Singapore possible over manmade island

A view of the Second Link at Tuas from the Singapore side. The Forest City project is a man-made island with total size of 2,000ha - nearly three times the size of Ang Mo Kio estate - in the Johor Strait opposite Tuas. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
A view of the Second Link at Tuas from the Singapore side. The Forest City project is a man-made island with total size of 2,000ha - nearly three times the size of Ang Mo Kio estate - in the Johor Strait opposite Tuas. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

JOHOR BARU - Johor lawmakers fear that Malaysia and Singapore will be embroiled in a diplomatic row when the detailed environmental impact assessment (DEIA) report of the controversial Forest City project is approved, the New Straits Times (NST) reported on Tuesday without naming the lawmakers.

They are worried about the possibility of "retribution" from Singapore, the pro-government newspaper said, citing the republic's reclamation works in Pulau Tekong and Tuas more than a decade ago as an example.

Malaysia had in 2003 took its complaint to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) following Singapore's actions in the Pulau Tekong and Tuas reclamation works, raising bilateral diplomatic heat.

"I hope both governments can work together to resolve the Forest City reclamation issue," an unnamed Johor assemblyman was quoted as saying by NST. "If it is brought to the ITLOS for arbitration, it can affect investors' confidence in Johor and Iskandar Malaysia."

The Forest City project is a man-made island with total size of 2,000ha - nearly three times the size of Ang Mo Kio estate - in the Johor Strait opposite Tuas.

It is being built by China's Country Garden Holdings which plans to build luxury homes on the reclaimed land over the next 30 years.

The project will be split into four man-made islands, NST reported in September, following a Malaysian hydrology study. The biggest island will measure 1,005ha and the smallest 58ha.

Sand for the project is being dredged up off Teluk Ramunia at the eastern tip of Johor, NST said, and delivered by barges via the Tuas side of the Johor Strait.

Singapore has conveyed its concern on a number of occasions to Malaysia, asking for more information on reclamation and construction works in the Johor strait from May.

Apart from Forest City, investors are also planning a 1,411ha man-made island called Maritime Industrial Park to host an oil-storing and energy hub. The project is also located off Tuas and has raised environmental concerns.

Reclamation works for Forest City had been started, and then stopped in June, as environmental impact studies are being carried out by Malaysia's Department of Environment.

The DEIA is expected to be released this week, NST said.

In the Pulau Tekong and Tuas reclamation cases, Malaysia had pursued the matter with ITLOS although Singapore had given the assurance that it had undertaken mitigation measures.

Similarly, several mitigation measures are being proposed for the Forest City project, but the assemblyman said Singapore might not be pacified with such assurances.

"Bringing the case to the arbitral tribunal does not bode well for cordial bilateral ties, which is needed to speed up several impending projects, including the Rapid Transit System connecting Johor Baru and Woodlands," said a second assemblyman.