Resolve bilateral issues without politicising them

I wholeheartedly support Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's statement in his New Year message that Singapore will deal with all outstanding bilateral matters "calmly and constructively" (Eventful year for S'pore abroad and at home; Jan 1).

Singapore and Malaysia enjoy and share a special relationship due to our historical and cultural links as well as our geographical proximity, which has resulted in both opportunities and challenges.

I believe both countries are acutely aware of the mutual importance of each other, and must continually look for ways and means to improve relations at all levels.

Equally important are the realisation and acceptance that even with many of the contentious bilateral issues outstanding, it is imperative that both sides look at the big picture and work together for mutual benefit in a region and a world that is fast-changing.

The two countries are smaller players on the world stage but have the capacity and the wherewithal to contribute meaningfully to regional security and well-being. This is a pragmatic way forward.

In the past, the leadership in Malaysia and Singapore have shown the light of cooperation and mutual understanding between them in accordance to the principles of "prosper thy neighbour" via economic, security and social aspects in order to realise the potential of each country.

The "win-win" situation is the best way to settle our bilateral problems. It can be achieved only if both parties are willing to accept the fact that the key to solving the outstanding bilateral issues is their willingness to compromise.

This will eventually lead to better relations.

The understanding reached by the leaders of the two countries must be based on the idea of preserving long-term mutual benefits.

This can be achieved by stepping up efforts to encourage more interaction between the various sectors and levels of the two countries.

Emphasis should also be given to youth and student exchanges as these will lay a strong foundation for better bilateral relations between the two countries.

In the past, it has been shown that given goodwill and tolerance, the two countries and their people can cooperate and coexist.

I believe if both nations avoid politicising the outstanding issues and resolve these away from media glare, a solution satisfactory to both countries can be reached.

Sattar Bawany (Professor)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 03, 2019, with the headline 'Resolve bilateral issues without politicising them'. Print Edition | Subscribe