MPs question motives behind territorial waters dispute, call for unity in Singapore

They share video on Malaysia's territorial claim as one of 3 key developments testing relations

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A Malaysian government vessel (left) near a Singapore Police Coast Guard vessel (right), as seen from the south of Tuas View Extension on Dec 6, 2018. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Singapore politicians have taken to social media this week to urge the people to rally together in the face of an ongoing territorial dispute with Malaysia.

Writing on their Facebook pages, they also explained the issue and its significance, as well as questioned the motives for Malaysia's actions.

The row erupted into the open early this week, and at least five MPs have responded to the events in the past two days.

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin shared a video which framed Malaysia's recent extension of the Johor Baru port limits - which have encroached into Singapore's waters off Tuas - as one of three key developments that are testing bilateral relations.

The other two issues are Malaysia wanting to review water prices and its intention to reclaim the management of the airspace over southern Johor, which Singapore has been doing for more than four decades since 1973/1974.

Questions were posed in the clip: "Why is Malaysia doing all this? Pressure tactics? To distract attention from domestic issues? To test the mettle of our leadership? To destabilise Singapore? To create racial divide? To test our racial harmony and unity?"

The two-minute clip, which Mr Tan urged Singaporeans to share, also called on citizens to "stay calm, stay firm" and to be psychologically prepared for the long haul.

Mr Tan, an MP for Marine Parade GRC, said: "We are putting these out because it needs to be done, given the developments and the stakes. If you prefer to believe the rhetoric from the other side, go ahead. But don't mask it in the name of being circumspect and being balanced."

He added: "No one is trying to be jingoistic. The call is to stay vigilant, resolute and united."

Sharing the same video on Facebook, Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC MP Alex Yam said the Singapore Armed Forces and security agencies stand ready to defend the nation's sovereignty. "Never take our survival, sovereignty and success for granted. Singapore and Singaporeans must ultimately stay united," Mr Yam wrote.

Tampines GRC MP Cheng Li Hui said: "Grateful for the men and women protecting us. Let us stay united and strong."

Other MPs who have weighed in on the issue include Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) and Dr Chia Shi-Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC).

Dr Chia said the issue is perplexing and hopes the matter can be resolved quickly.

Yesterday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen also took to social media to warn errant Malaysian vessels to stay out of Singapore's waters.

There have been 14 incursions from Malaysian government ships in the past two weeks.

Singapore also said yesterday that it disagreed with Malaysia's proposal for both countries to cease and desist from sending assets into the disputed area, and reiterated the call for Malaysian government vessels to stop the incursions.

On social media, many Singaporeans gave their take on why Malaysia was choosing to claim now as its own the waters that Singapore has been patrolling.

Echoing a term used by retired diplomat Bilahari Kausikan, some said Singapore was being used as a "bogeyman" for Malaysia to rally domestic support for its government amid political uncertainty.

One Facebook user, Idge Imbrulia, said on The Straits Times Facebook page that Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was using Singapore as a distraction from domestic problems, such as Kuala Lumpur's non-ratification of a United Nations convention against racial discrimination.

Malaysia's major dailies did not give the territorial dispute much play.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 08, 2018, with the headline MPs question motives behind territorial waters dispute, call for unity in Singapore. Subscribe