Malaysians urge KL, Singapore to settle spat, as 'a lot depends on ties'

A Malaysian government vessel, Polaris, (left) near a Singapore Police Coast Guard vessel (right), as seen from the south of Tuas View Extension on Dec 6, 2018.
A Malaysian government vessel, Polaris, (left) near a Singapore Police Coast Guard vessel (right), as seen from the south of Tuas View Extension on Dec 6, 2018.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysians and businesses in the country want the current maritime and airspace boundary dispute between Malaysia and Singapore to be resolved amicably as soon as possible, as a lot is riding on the relationship.

With their economies intricately linked to each other - Singapore is Malaysia's second largest trading partner while many Malaysians in Johor commute daily to the Republic for work and studies - any long drawn spat is likely to affect both countries.

In Malaysia, the business sector is calling for the dispute to be solved amicably soon to safeguard the bilateral and trading ties between the two nations.

SME Association of Malaysia president Michael Kang said formidable relations between Malaysia and other Asean countries were essential to the region's survival and relevance in the long run.

"I am sure this is what the people from both Malaysia and Singapore want to see, too," he said on Sunday (Dec 9).

Likening Malaysia and the nine other Asean countries as siblings, Datuk Kang said it was necessary for both Malaysia and Singapore to sit down and reach a common ground.

"If the dispute remains unresolved, it could escalate and possibly be exploited by other nearby non-Asean nations. The people as well as businesses will suffer then.

 
 

"Therefore, it is always the best if Asean countries show commitment to solve any dispute and develop the region together," he added.

He also noted that both Malaysia and Singapore should engage less in a war of words.

"Be it engaging in active discussions or initiating legal procedure, both countries have to cooperate and solve the issue either way," he added.

Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Malaysia secretary-general Low Kian Chuan also echoed Mr Kang's sentiment, saying there was no need for neighbours to fight.

"The issue may not affect the business sector much as of now, but it doesn't mean that it should be taken lightly," said Datuk Low.

"It will be up to the Foreign Ministry's wisdom to deal with it by following the law. It should not drag on... especially after so many years of being together."

Calling the bilateral relationship between two countries as "cold politics" and "hot economics", Socio-Economic Research Centre executive director Lee Heng Guie said that both countries' economic and investment relationship has been strong amid occasional flashpoints and issues in the past.

As at June, he said, Singapore's foreign direct investment (FDI) stock in Malaysia amounted to RM120.9 billion (S$39.7 billion) or 19.6 per cent of Malaysia's outstanding FDI, making it the largest foreign investor in Malaysia.

"In our assessment, the probability of high-intensity conflict is low. It is in the best interest of both countries to negotiate and resolve their differences.

"Both countries must avoid any hostile confrontation that would not only strain the relationship, but risk impacting the bilateral business and investment flows if the conflict escalates," he said, adding that evidence from countries embroiled in prolonged conflict has resulted in the disruption of economic and trade flows.

Political analyst Aruna Gopinath, who specialises in maritime security, called for an immediate negotiation to take place.

"Immediate negotiations have to take place and there should not be any provocations. This is a border dispute and no military forces should be deployed by both countries," she said.

"Both countries have to respect each other's territorial integrity and return to the negotiating table."

She added that the issue also should not be blown out of proportion by the media or politicians.

JOHOREANS UNEASY

Residents of Johor, Singapore's immediate neighbour, likewise feel that both countries should meet at the negotiation table as soon as possible.

Mr Andes Wong, 32, a Malaysian who visits Singapore frequently, said both countries have a long history of good relationship that should not be marred by a maritime or airspace dispute.

"I believe we can come to a win-win situation which will benefit all sides," he said on Sunday.

He said many Malaysians and Singaporeans cross over to both countries every day and both governments have gained revenue from this.

Mr Saiful Ahmad, 47, who travels daily to Singapore for work, said an amicable solution was the best way.

"I am worried about my livelihood. I cannot afford to lose my job if the situation worsens and both countries restrict the movement of people," he said.

Mr Justin Seow, who is studying at the Nanyang Technological University, said he is troubled.

"I hope the bilateral relations will not worsen. The question arises whether the people of the two nations will be blinded by pure nationalism or they will consider things from a rational level," he said.

He does not think the dispute would cost Malaysians their jobs in the Republic but it all depends on the city-state's response if the dispute escalated.

Johor Indian Business Association president P. Sivakumar is shocked that the situation has reached this point, adding that the business communities of both countries are monitoring the situation.

He said both countries should de-escalate and find an amicable solution to the issues including water, airspace and sea boundaries.

"If both sides are unable to reach an agreement, they should bring this to the ICJ (International Court of Justice)," Mr Sivakumar said.

Meanwhile, Singaporean Khairi­na Mohamad said both governments should come up with a win-win solution that would benefit both Malaysia and Singapore, especially their citizens.

"I feel that prolonging the quarrel will just affect businesses in both countries," she said.

Ms Khairina, who spends every weekend in Johor, also shared what she loved about Malaysia - food, culture and apparel.

"I find joy in exploring uniqueness and I think many Singaporeans do as well," she said.