Singapore-Malaysia relations still good despite disputes, says KL Foreign Minister

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan (right) and his Malaysian counterpart Saifuddin Abdullah at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Singapore on Jan 8, 2019.
Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan (right) and his Malaysian counterpart Saifuddin Abdullah at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Singapore on Jan 8, 2019.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Important that talks on sea and air disputes ongoing, moving in right direction, he adds

PUTRAJAYA • Ties between Malaysia and Singapore are still "good", Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said yesterday, despite ongoing air and maritime disputes between the two countries.

"Our relations with Singapore remain good. There are some issues but we are talking to each other, and that is very important," said Datuk Saifuddin, according to a report by national news agency Bernama. "Most importantly, the discussions are going on. I am confident the discussions are moving in the right direction," he added.

He said five senior government officials will meet their Singaporean counterparts to discuss these issues.

Besides Mr Saifuddin, the others are Transport Minister Anthony Loke, Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali, Attorney-General Tommy Thomas, and Foreign Ministry secretary-general Muhammad Shahrul Ikram Yaakob.

Singapore and Malaysia are locked in two separate disputes over territorial waters off Tuas, and airspace management over southern Johor.

The disagreements are the latest in a string of bilateral hiccups since Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad returned to power as Malaysia's Prime Minister after an unprecedented change of government in May last year.

The dispute over maritime boundaries started after Kuala Lumpur, on Oct 25 last year, unilaterally extended the Johor Baru port limits into Singapore's territorial waters off Tuas.

 
 
 

Daily intrusions into these waters by Malaysian government vessels since November last year have continued despite the Malaysian Foreign Affairs Ministry declaring that it would take "all effective measures" to de-escalate the situation on the ground.

Malaysia has also objected to the implementation of new landing procedures for Singapore's Seletar Airport. Last week, Singapore and Malaysia took steps to defuse their air and maritime tensions, with Mr Saifuddin and his Singaporean counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan reiterating their commitment "to preserving the vital relationship between both countries and improving bilateral ties on the basis of equality and mutual respect".

A day later, however, Johor Menteri Besar Osman Sapian boarded a vessel in the disputed waters off Tuas, an act that resulted in the postponement of the Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia (JMCIM) meeting, which was originally scheduled to take place earlier this week on Monday.

Singapore, which has formally protested against the intrusion, said his presence on a Malaysian vessel in Singapore's territory had rendered holding the JMCIM "untenable". Malaysia has maintained that he was in Malaysian waters.

Mr Saifuddin yesterday said the channels of communication between the two countries remain open. This was evident when Datuk Seri Azmin met Dr Balakrishnan earlier this week despite the postponement of the JMCIM.

"We have always safeguarded our sovereignty and our independence. We just have to continue talking to our Singapore counterparts," Mr Saifuddin said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2019, with the headline 'S'pore-Malaysia relations still good despite disputes, says KL Foreign Minister'. Print Edition | Subscribe