The intrusion by Johor's Menteri Besar into Singapore waters off Tuas last Wednesday went against the spirit of the agreement concluded by the foreign ministers of both countries just a day earlier.
Stressing the point in Parliament yesterday, Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said: "It undermined the goodwill and trust necessary for further cooperation between the two countries, especially cooperation involving Johor. It made it untenable to proceed with the JMC (Joint Ministerial Committee) meeting."
The 14th JMC for Iskandar Malaysia was to have been held yesterday as part of ways both sides can cooperate to develop the Iskandar Development Region in Johor.
But on the eve of the meeting, Singapore's Foreign Affairs Ministry said Datuk Osman Sapian's presence on a Malaysian vessel in Singapore's territory last Wednesday had made the meeting untenable. Yesterday, Dr Balakrishnan said the meeting was to have been chaired by National Development Minister Lawrence Wong and Malaysian Minister for Economic Affairs Azmin Ali, involving Singapore and Malaysia's ministers and officials, and Johor officials, including Mr Osman.
"But most regrettably, the Menteri Besar staged a publicised visit to the Malaysian Marine Department vessel anchored in Singapore territorial waters off Tuas on Jan 9, 2019," he added. Mr Osman had posted on Facebook later the same day about his visit to the vessel.
Singapore formally protested against the intrusion via a Third Person Note to Malaysia, and proposed postponing the meeting. Malaysia agreed.
Dr Balakrishnan said he informed Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah and Datuk Azmin of the postponement. "I should add that my discussions with both ministers, before and after the Johor Menteri Besar's actions, have been amicable and constructive, focused on trying to resolve the issues.
"Datuk Azmin met me yesterday. He also met ministers Khaw Boon Wan (Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport) and Lawrence Wong today to discuss several bilateral projects which he is in charge of."
Despite the difficulties, Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore still hopes to work with Malaysia for better ties and closer cooperation. "However, both sides must act in good faith, in compliance with international law and norms, and honour existing agreements," he said.