Singapore gains nothing with harder stance against KL in dispute, says PPBM strategist

Part of the Johor Baru port, as seen from Tuas on Dec 5, 2018.
Part of the Johor Baru port, as seen from Tuas on Dec 5, 2018.PHOTO: ST FILE

KUALA LUMPUR - A senior member of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's political party said Singapore will gain nothing by hardening its stance against Malaysia in the ongoing maritime and airspace boundary dispute in Johor.

According to Dr Rais Hussin, a supreme council member of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), Malaysia has all along taken a live and let live approach with Singapore, and a "naked display of nationalism" as shown by the Republic in the dispute would be mirrored in Malaysia.

He also heads PPBM's policy and strategy bureau.

"All put, there is nothing that Singapore can gain by hardening its stance against Malaysia" in issues such as maritime boundaries.

"It helps not to turn a spat into a spar, which repeated often enough, can be a bone spur that presses against the spinal chord of both countries.

"Then what? Fight and tear at each other's faces? Singapore and Malaysia both know that wars are meant to make an orphan of all children of their respective populations," he wrote in a piece in English carried in the Malay Mail and Malaysiakini.

Singapore has said that Malaysian vessels had entered and remained in the Republic's territorial waters off Tuas which Kuala Lumpur laid claim to recently on Oct 25 as extension to the Johor Baru port limits.


Meanwhile, Malaysia has said it planned to reclaim airspace delegated to Singapore and also protested against new flight procedures which would be implemented next month at Seletar Airport, saying these would stunt development of the Pasir Gudang industrial district in Johor.

Dr Rais wrote: "Malaysia has taken a live and let live approach with Singapore, granted that Malaysia knows that Singapore is smart enough not to spoil for a fight. Thus, Malaysia has hardly ever protested about Singapore's incursions about its airspace.

"Thus when Singapore goes all ballistic about the 14 so-called 'incursions' of Malaysian patrol boats... with maps to show by the Ministry of Transport, one wonders if Singapore knows Malaysia has been tolerating it ad nauseum? Not in the sea but in the air.

"If Malaysia asserts its sovereignty and right to self defence, as Singapore Patrol Boats and Navy seem to want to do in the new areas claimed by Malaysia in 2018, Malaysia and Singapore would be having aerial dog fights from 1965 until today."

He said that while Singapore is at liberty "to use a legal and judicial approach in governing its relationship with Malaysia", bilateral ties could be in trouble if Kuala Lumpur were to do the same.

"If Malaysia uses the exact replica of the Singapore approach, Singapore's airspace would be tied in knots," he said, referring to the Republic's "aerial incursions" in southern Johor.

"Why should Singapore be so hard on any naval intrusions when Malaysia has said little if nothing on Singapore's aerial incursions?" he asked.

Dr Rais ended by writing: "There is nothing to gain by issuing threats to interdict Malaysian ships in Malaysian or Singaporean waters. What Singapore will get is pain by a thousand cuts.

"But then if Singapore feels that its 2019 election is the perfect time to flex its muscles, Singapore should know that such naked display of nationalism is bound to make Malaysians willing to do the same. An eye for an eye does make the world go blind."