Singapore stands by its HSR and water pact obligations, says Vivian

Responding in Parliament to a question about bilateral relations with Malaysia, Dr Balakrishnan said the 1962 Water Agreement with Malaysia is "not an ordinary agreement".
Responding in Parliament to a question about bilateral relations with Malaysia, Dr Balakrishnan said the 1962 Water Agreement with Malaysia is "not an ordinary agreement".PHOTO: GOV.SG

Respecting sanctity of international deals a tenet basic to Republic's foreign policy

Singapore yesterday reiterated that upholding international law and respecting the sanctity of international agreements is a tenet basic to its foreign policy.

That is why, in keeping its end of the bargain, Singapore has already spent more than $250 million on the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR) project, and is likely to expend another $40 million or so by year-end, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said.

It is also why Singapore will honour the terms of its Water Agreement with Malaysia and expects its neighbour to do the same, added Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in Parliament.

Responding to a question from Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) on bilateral ties with Malaysia, Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore is still meeting its obligations on the HSR while waiting for Malaysia to clarify its position.

He added that the sanctity of international agreements is critical for a small state like Singapore.

If countries were to unilaterally revise or abandon terms of agreements, this would be "manifestly a recipe for disaster'', he said.

This principle lies at the crux of the HSR issue, he added.

Singapore signed the HSR Bilateral Agreement (BA) in 2016 in good faith, after both sides had negotiated and agreed to all the provisions, including those dealing with the eventuality that the HSR is terminated, Dr Balakrishnan said.

In recent weeks, he said, some Malaysian leaders have talked of terminating the project.

Dr Balakrishnan noted that Singapore had sent a third-person note to the Malaysian government seeking clarification of Malaysia's position on the HSR, but it has not replied.

Saying that the Government has a duty to safeguard public funds by recovering the costs, he added: "Should Malaysia cause the HSR project to be terminated, we will deal with the question of compensation from Malaysia for costs incurred in accordance with the BA and international law."

The same principle underlies the 1962 Water Agreement between Singapore and Malaysia, he said.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said he wants to renegotiate the terms of the deal as he feels the price of raw water sold to Singapore, as stipulated in the agreement, is "ridiculous".

Recounting past statements made by then Foreign Ministers S. Jayakumar in 2003 and K. Shanmugam in 2014 on water, Dr Balakrishnan said: "As was stated then, the core issue is "not how much we pay, but how any price revision is decided upon".

Malaysia lost its right to review the price of water under the agreement when it did not do so in 1987, he said, adding that neither Singapore nor Malaysia can unilaterally change the terms of the deal.

Singapore will fully honour the terms of the deal and expects Malaysia to do the same, he said.

While asserting the Republic's position on these issues, Dr Balakrishnan also made it clear that Singapore is committed to working with Malaysia's new government.

"A stable and prosperous Malaysia is good for Singapore and for our region," he said. "We have generally enjoyed a positive and constructive relationship with successive Malaysian governments and leaders, and we believe there is still much for us to achieve together."

In this and other foreign policy matters, Singapore stands by its fundamental principles, he added.

Aside from respecting international agreements, Singapore believes disputes should be resolved in accordance with international law, and that it should maintain a reputation as a credible, trusted and consistent partner, he said.

Singapore and Malaysia, he said, "must work with each other on the basis that both sides will fully respect the sanctity of international agreements, and that any disputes are resolved peacefully in accordance with international law".

"Provided this condition is met, we are confident bilateral relations will prosper, to the mutual benefit of both countries."


Reports from Parliament


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2018, with the headline 'Singapore stands by its HSR and water pact obligations, says Vivian'. Print Edition | Subscribe