Malaysia has done itself in with actions

Recent developments involving aerial and maritime boundary disputes between Singapore and Malaysia should be concerning to citizens of both countries.

In the aerial boundary dispute, Malaysia wants to reclaim International Civil Aviation Organisation or ICAO-delegated airspace over Johor on grounds that Singapore's operations at Seletar Airport and in the Singapore-controlled flight information region infringes on Malaysian sovereign rights.

In the maritime boundary dispute, Malaysia has unilaterally sent government vessels to remain in the waters delimited in the Malaysia-Singapore territorial waters agreement of 1995, without consultation with Singapore.

As the first-mover in both cases, Malaysia has exerted its right to lodge its concerns and disagreements with Singapore. But doing so through presumptive moves and by issuing provocative threats of territorial "take-backs" does not do itself any favours.

First, these antagonistic gestures dent Malaysia's credibility as an observer of international law and undermine its image as a trustworthy partner in international dealings.

Second, Malaysia's claims seem to be reactive to Singapore's latest air and maritime projects in Seletar and Tuas. These sudden claims make Malaysian leaders appear factious at best, or embittered at worst.

Third, Malaysia risks expending unnecessary energy in the name of exerting its rights. Amid a slowing global economy and racial tensions at home, Malaysia could have focused its resources more productively on addressing real-life issues affecting its citizens.

It is dismaying to watch two neighbours with huge collaborative potential hobbled by needless dispute.

Citizens on both sides should urge their governments to focus on what is truly significant to their countries, and cease and desist from participating in this acrimony.

Lin Weiqiang (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2018, with the headline 'Malaysia has done itself in with actions'. Print Edition | Subscribe