Malaysians want both countries to settle dispute quickly

PETALING JAYA • Malaysians and businesses in the country want the 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 hundreds of thousands of Malaysians in Johor commute daily to the Republic for work and study - a long-drawn-out spat is likely to affect both countries.

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

SME Association of Malaysia president Michael Kang said strong relations between Malaysia and other Asean countries are 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.

He said both countries 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 said there was no need for the 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."

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


Singapore's foreign direct investment (FDI) stock in Malaysia as of end-June, he said, totalled RM120.9 billion (S$39.8 billion), or 19.6 per cent of Malaysia's outstanding FDI, making the Republic 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," he said.

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 that both countries have a long history of good relations 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 daily, 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 Nanyang Technological University, said: "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 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 escalates.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2018, with the headline 'Malaysians want both countries to settle dispute quickly'. Print Edition | Subscribe