The Straits Times says

Connectivity that rises above politics

The signing of an agreement this week for the Johor Baru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link signifies the dramatic possibilities of connectivity created by bilateral cooperation. A mere seven years from now, Singaporeans and Malaysians will be able to hop on an MRT train every eight minutes to get across the border. That would represent an unbelievable shortening of travelling time from what is required now. The agreement on the RTS Link - signed during Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's visit to Singapore for the leaders' retreat with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong - would also help to bring the two peoples closer psychologically and boost economic and business connections between them. It would work in tandem with the spirit of the decision to build a high-speed rail line between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

Connectivity is not just another word for ease of travel, but symbolises a desire by countries to plan infrastructural developments together so that both sides benefit from them. It is a win-win game that reveals a high level of trust and a sophisticated ability to iron out differences over the details that crop up inevitably in complex projects. Other projects on the cards that attest to this welcome phase in bilateral ties include schemes to raise the water levels in Johor's Linggiu Reservoir to meet the needs of both countries. One possibility is a joint hydrometric modelling study of the Johor River. Indeed, the opening of the Marina One complex and Duo, a mixed-use development in Ophir-Rochor district, attests to what can be achieved by the ability to work together. The developments are the result of a pact between Singapore and Malaysia in 2010 that reflected a happy turn in ties after two decades of impasse.

If the momentum unleashed by this trend in bilateral relations is to be sustained, there is a fundamental need to keep the national interest free of the changing demands of domestic politics. The danger is that the agenda of bilateral ties through coordinated development could be held hostage by political parties that adopt a nativist position which accuses joint developments of infringing on national sovereignty or shortchanging the population. The danger is high particularly during election time, which Malaysia is approaching. It is to be hoped that both Malaysians and Singaporeans alike judge what is good for both sides and not be swayed by defeatist zero-sum thinking.

Indeed, people of the two sides of the Causeway should view the concrete upturn in their relations as contributing to the viability of Asean. Economic congruence, manifested in connectivity, lies at the heart of the organisation's rationale. Certainly, countries will seek to preserve their national interest, but regionalism advances that interest by enabling nations to act in a collaborative spirit of shared well-being.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2018, with the headline 'Connectivity that rises above politics'. Print Edition | Subscribe