Malaysia will take 'all effective measures' to de-escalate situation in maritime border dispute, its Foreign Ministry says

A Malaysian government vessel (left) and a Singapore Police Coast Guard vessel in Singapore territorial waters off Tuas on Dec 6, 2018.
A Malaysian government vessel (left) and a Singapore Police Coast Guard vessel in Singapore territorial waters off Tuas on Dec 6, 2018.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - Malaysia said on Monday (Dec 10) that it will take all effective measures to de-escalate the situation on the ground, and handle its current dispute with Singapore over maritime boundaries in a calm and peaceful manner.

"Malaysia reiterates the importance of strong bilateral relations between the two countries, and hope that discussions will commence expeditiously," its Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

However, Malaysia said it is unable to accede to Singapore's proposal to withdraw Malaysian government vessels in the disputed area and return to the status quo prior to Oct 25, when Kuala Lumpur gazetted an extension to Johor Baru Port limits which encroached into Singapore territorial waters off Tuas. It was the first time Malaysia had claimed the area, which Singapore vessels had been patrolling for decades and which was outside previous maps published by Malaysia on its territorial claims.

Malaysia's Foreign Ministry said it had called Singapore's High Commissioner in Kuala Lumpur on Monday (Dec 10) to discuss the latest development.

The ministry added that it "welcomed Singapore's continued emphasis on the importance of dialogue, and its willingness to engage with Malaysia in resolving matters amicably, along with its consideration of Malaysia's proposed agenda for the bilateral discussion".

Malaysia had earlier proposed bilateral talks to resolve the issue in mid-December, and the ministry said on Monday that Malaysia is agreeable to Singapore's counter-proposed dates for talks in January 2019.

On Saturday, Singapore had sent a diplomatic note to Malaysia through its Acting High Commissioner in Singapore. In that note, the Republic declined Malaysia's proposal for both countries to mutually cease and desist from sending ships into the disputed area, pending discussions on outstanding maritime boundary issues.

Singapore also called upon Malaysia to return to the status quo prior to Oct 25 by immediately withdrawing all Malaysian government vessels in the area.

Malaysia's Foreign Ministry said: "Both countries acknowledge that any measures taken, would be without prejudice to their own claims."

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing had said on Saturday that the Singapore Government is hopeful that both governments can reach a swift and amicable resolution to this dispute. And if the talks do not eventually produce an amicable resolution, the Singapore Government would be prepared for the matter to be settled by recourse to an appropriate international third-party dispute settlement procedure. He also said the situation had to be calmed down, and called on Malaysian vessels to leave the area.

 
 
 

On Monday, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad also said Malaysia will keep its vessels in the disputed waters until a decision has been reached.

"At the moment, because there is no decision, the vessels are there. Singaporean vessels are there, our vessels are there," he said.

"We will discuss with Singapore. We do not want to argue with Singapore. Sometimes, there are overlapping (boundary) claims and we can solve this with discussions," he added at a press conference after an anti-corruption award ceremony in Kuala Lumpur.