Time Singapore responded like-for-like to Malaysia

A Singapore Police Coast Guard vessel (centre) passes a Malaysian government vessel (left) in the waters between Singapore and Malaysian, on Dec 6, 2018.
A Singapore Police Coast Guard vessel (centre) passes a Malaysian government vessel (left) in the waters between Singapore and Malaysian, on Dec 6, 2018.PHOTO: ST FILE

Our political leaders may have misread Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

The man interprets restraint as contemptible weakness to be trampled over. He only understands, indeed respects, strength. The only way to bring him back to reality is to respond to every provocation of his in kind, while taking care not to initiate any on our own.

Hence we should immediately and unilaterally extend the Tuas port limits beyond the 1979 Malaysian claim line, to the same extent as the Johor port limits have been unilaterally extended beyond the line.

We should then anchor the same number of Singapore government vessels in the waters beyond the line as the number of Malaysian government vessels that have been anchored in our waters. We will increase or reduce this number in accordance with the number of Malaysian vessels in our waters.

Our enforcement agencies should stand by to take the same action against the Malaysian vessels as whatever action that may be taken by the Malaysian authorities against our vessels.

For good measure, one of our ministers can visit our vessels to see how our security forces are carrying out their duties, in the belief that he or she is in our waters.

What if the second-time Malaysian prime minister initiates further provocations, like banning all export of food to Singapore?

Our government will have failed us if it has not had a food security contingency plan in place for such a scenario.

So that would be as good a time as any to put the plan to the test.

How about the ultimate provocation: water? That question has been answered by our late founding prime minister and his answer is as valid now as when it was first given.

To fellow Singaporeans who find me reckless, irresponsible or naive, I invite them to ask themselves this question: When push comes to shove, are we 100 per cent certain that we will not blink first?

Whether we like it or not, our neighbours will always tempt us with this question and will continue to do so for as long as they are not completely sure of our answer.

As long as we ourselves have the slightest lingering doubt about our answer, we will never be a truly sovereign nation that can stand straight among our neighbours.

We and our children will forever be subservient to their wishes, even if such servitude is subtle and only infrequently enforced.

Cheng Shoong Tat

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2019, with the headline 'Time S'pore responded like-for-like to Malaysia'. Print Edition | Subscribe