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Malaysia must treat S'pore as a sovereign nation

In an interview with Straits Times executive editor Sumiko Tan, Malaysian Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng made some comments, some of which echoed the views of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad ('Never in my wildest dreams'; July 8).

As a pioneer Singaporean who has lived through the tumultuous years of Singapore's struggles, including the painful separation from Malaysia in 1965, I feel it necessary, for the sake of younger Singaporeans and Malaysians, to put those statements in their proper contexts.

Singapore joined Malaysia initially because the Singaporean leaders then knew that it was difficult for Singapore to survive, given that the nation has no natural resources.

Singapore had to reluctantly separate from Malaysia and the water agreement was part of the deal offered by Malaysia to Singapore to ensure that the latter would be willing to accept the separation. The water agreement was an understanding to assure Singapore that water for the city would not be an issue for its survival after the separation.

It was never regarded as being "unfair" by Malaysia.

The apparent request for Singapore to show some goodwill, as well as to adopt a "prosper thy neighbour" policy, may seem reasonable, but this should be mutual and positive for both nations.

As I recall, leaders across the Causeway have often bashed Singapore for the slightest of reasons, at times to distract Malaysians from their internal squabbles or to score political points.

Singapore is now an independent sovereign nation and should be treated as such.

The idea that Singapore is "guilty" of "stealing" foreign talent from Malaysia must also be seen in the light of the current global situation, where talent moves frequently across borders.

Citizens from China who moved overseas are now going back, and the reasons may be manifold. It is the prerogative of nations to nurture an environment conducive for their own talented citizens to remain.

However, there should be no qualms for other nations to attract foreign talent, given the current fluid global context and the fact that, with technical advancements and the progress of artificial intelligence, the world is essentially "borderless".

Quek Koh Choon (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 15, 2018, with the headline 'Malaysia must treat S'pore as a sovereign nation'. Print Edition | Subscribe