No place for power play in S'pore-KL rail project

China's offer to set up a surveillance system at Singapore's doorstep in Johor while furiously objecting to South Korea's decision to install the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) system with its similar monitoring capabilities is a most illuminating study in behavioural contrasts (Malaysia's balancing act between Asean and Beijing; May 19).

With such frequent mixed signals from China, should one be chided for being confused about its exhortations not to take sides in big-power rivalry?

China's keen interest in the high-speed rail project between Malaysia and Singapore - two of Asean's closest neighbours in terms of cultural similarity and affinity - is welcome.

It is only natural that the world's major rail-industry players will lobby for the privilege of executing this prestigious multibillion-dollar project.

However, it must also be made very clear that the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR) link is about meeting the needs of its originators and owners first and foremost, and not about anyone's global ambitions.

Above all, the players should accept that the eventual winner will be chosen from an open and transparent tender process.

Those who are true to their calls for mutual respect in each other's freedom and sovereignty, including the rule of law, will understand and abide by these gold standards intuitively without seeking to unduly influence the outcome.

However, they must also be very clear that at its heart, the HSR link is a commercial project which seeks to deepen Malaysia-Singapore ties across various domains, and is not part of a checklist for third parties seeking global supremacy.

Whether this network eventually plugs into their grand schemes is quite secondary.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 29, 2017, with the headline 'No place for power play in S'pore-KL rail project'. Print Edition | Subscribe