All 'unresolved' issues to be discussed with Singapore at leaders' retreat: PM Mahathir

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said the discussions would be friendly. PHOTO: REUTERS

PUTRAJAYA - All "unresolved" matters between Malaysia and Singapore will continue to be discussed at the upcoming leaders' retreat between the two countries, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Friday (April 5).

The annual meeting between Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Tun Dr Mahathir, postponed since November last year, will take place in Malaysia's administrative capital Putrajaya on Monday and Tuesday.

"All the things that are ... unresolved including the water problem, ...the borderline with our waters ... flights over our area, who's going to control it," said Dr Mahathir at a press conference, when asked what issues would be discussed at the retreat.

The two countries have recently been embroiled in a dispute over territorial waters off Tuas, after Malaysia unilaterally extended the Johor Baru port limits last October, encroaching into waters Singapore regards as its own.

Singapore responded by extending its port limits within its territorial waters.

While both sides agreed in March to de-escalate tensions by jointly suspending their overlapping port claims and reverting to their ports' former limits, two Malaysian government vessels remain anchored in waters off Tuas.

Malaysia also announced last year that it wants to reclaim the rights to manage its airspace over southern Johor, which Singapore has been providing air traffic services in, citing national and sovereign interests.

This ninth leaders' retreat is the first to be hosted under the leadership of the Pakatan Harapan government, which came to power in May last year.

Since then, Dr Mahathir has revisited the issue of the price at which Malaysia supplies water to Singapore, a thorny subject during his first stint as prime minister from 1981 to 2003.

He has described the water price as too cheap and "ridiculous", contending that the terms of the 1962 Water Agreement signed with Singapore needs to be reviewed.

Under the 1962 Water Agreement, which expires in 2061, Singapore is entitled to draw up to 250 million gallons a day (mgd) of raw water from the Johor River at three sen per 1,000 gallons.

Johor is entitled to buy five mgd of treated water from Singapore at 50 sen per 1,000 gallons.

Singapore has said this price is heavily subsidised and below the cost of treating the water. Singapore has, in practice, been supplying 16mgd of treated water at Johor's request.

Dr Mahathir said on Friday that the discussions would be friendly, and that Malaysia is not confrontational.

"I believe Singapore understands the need to revise price of water," he said.

Singapore Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has stated in March that the two countries have to honour the agreement.

"... Malaysia and Singapore must fully honour the terms of the 1962 Water Agreement, including the price of water that's stipulated in it. And our longstanding position has been that neither Malaysia nor Singapore can unilaterally change the terms of this agreement between our two countries," Dr Balakrishnan said.

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