KUALA LUMPUR • China and Singapore will always be Malaysia's key trade partners despite differences in views, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told international investors gathered for a conference in the Malaysian capital.
This was the latest assurance from Putrajaya to the two countries that their ongoing disputes with Malaysia will not dampen economic ties, news portal Malay Mail reported yesterday.
"We may have differences of views - as with Singapore and China - but let me tell you we see them as close partners," said Tun Dr Mahathir 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 longstanding water supply deal. The neighbours have also 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 (S$26.5 billion) East Coast Rail Link, was said to have upset Beijing.
Dr Mahathir eventually changed his mind and said the project would continue if the developers agreed to reduce the cost.
Talks over the new terms are ongoing, with Putrajaya saying it expects to close the deal by the middle of the year.
The Prime Minister also told investors yesterday 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 as saying by the Malay Mail.
During the conference's question-and-answer session, he said Malaysia and Singapore must be connected by three to four more bridges to ensure smooth traffic flow.
He said traffic volume between mainland Peninsular Malaysia and Penang Island is lower than that between Singapore and Johor. Yet Penang is planning to have a third link soon, by constructing a tunnel to the mainland to add to the two existing bridges, Malay Mail quoted him as saying.
"Singapore traffic is much bigger than Penang's. We have only one Causeway and a bridge. We need at least three to four more bridges," said Dr Mahathir.
But Singapore does not want any more bridges for some reason that he himself does not understand, he was quoted as saying.
On the water supply deal, he 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."
Dr Mahathir's government is asking Singapore to review the price of water under the 1962 Water Agreement, but the Republic has consistently said that Kuala Lumpur has lost that right after it chose not to do so in 1987.