KUALA LUMPUR - China and Singapore will always be Malaysia's key trade partners despite differences in views, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad told international investors gathered for a conference in the Malaysian capital.
This was the latest assurance Putrajaya to the two countries that their ongoing disputes with Malaysia will not dampen economic ties with the country, the Malay Mail reported on Tuesday (March 19).
"We may have differences of views - as with Singapore and China - but let me tell you we see them as close partners," Dr Mahathir said in his keynote address at the Invest Malaysia 2019 conference according to the report.
"They are our top two key trading and investment partners," he added.
Singapore and Malaysia have been trying to iron out their differences over their long-standing water supply deal.
The neighbours also have locked horns in recent months over their maritime and airspace borders.
Meanwhile Putrajaya's initial decision to cancel several Chinese-funded large-scale infrastructure projects, including the RM80 billion East Coast Rail Link, was said to have upset Beijing.
Dr Mahathir eventually changed his mind and said the ECRL would continue if the developers agree to reduce the cost.
Talks over the new terms are still ongoing, with Putrajaya saying it expects to close the deal by mid-year.
On Tuesday, the prime minister told investors that Malaysia remains committed to trade with all key partners, particularly nations with "close and strongest links".
"We wish to reiterate that Malaysia is committed to friendly economic ties," he was quoted by the Malay Mail as saying.
During the question-and-answer session, the prime minister said Malaysia and Singapore must be connected by three to four more bridges to smoothen traffic flow.
Dr Mahathir said traffic volumes between mainland Peninsular Malaysia and Penang island are lower than that between Singapore and Johor, yet Penang is planning to have a third link soon by digging a tunnel to the mainland, to add to two bridges, Malay Mail news site quoted him as saying.
“Singapore traffic is much bigger than Penang’s. We only have one causeway and a bridge. We need at least three to four more bridges,” he said.
But Dr Mahathir said Singapore does not want any more bridges for some reason that he himself does not understand, he was quoted as saying.
On the water deal with Singapore, Dr Mahathir gave the assurance that Malaysia and Singapore are not going to war over it.
“We are nice people...we will try to negotiate like civilised people,” he said.
Dr Mahathir's government is asking Singapore to review the price of water under the 1962 Water Agreement, but the Republic has consistently said Kuala Lumpur has lost that right after it chose not to do so in 1987.