SINGAPORE - Incidents like the recent incursion by Johor's Menteri Besar into Singapore's territorial waters are "provocative and escalatory", and contradict the officially stated policy of the Malaysian government, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in Parliament on Tuesday (Jan 15).
"Tensions and real risks increased during this incident," he said, adding that Singapore's security agencies had detected the movement of Datuk Osman Sapian's entourage early, during which the number of Malaysian government vessels in Singapore's waters increased from two to five.
"Our Police Coast Guard and Republic of Singapore Navy vessels responded promptly to this provocation, as they had to," he said. "As a result, the total number of vessels in the area more than doubled. These provocations do nothing to help resolve disputes and indeed can precipitate incidents on the ground, which will do lasting harm to bilateral ties."
Dr Ng was replying to Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan, who had asked what has been and will be done to prevent more Malaysian vessels from entering Singapore's territorial waters.
He said Singapore has the ability to compel intruding Malaysian government vessels to leave its territorial waters. But its security agencies have been ordered to exercise restraint and avoid escalating tensions for now "so as not to jeopardise the conditions necessary for constructive discussions and peaceful resolution of the dispute".
In October 2018, Malaysia unilaterally extended the Johor Baru port limits into Singapore's territorial waters off Tuas. Daily intrusions into these waters by Malaysian government vessels since November have continued despite the Malaysian Foreign Affairs Ministry declaring that it would take "all effective measures" to de-escalate the situation on the ground.
On Monday, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan delivered a ministerial statement setting out Singapore's position on the various disputes with Malaysia, including the issue of maritime boundaries.
Dr Balakrishnan said Malaysia's extension of port limits goes beyond even the territorial sea claims in its 1979 map, which Singapore has rejected consistently. He also highlighted how Singapore has long exercised sovereignty and patrolled the disputed waters without any protest from Malaysia.
Dr Ng said Singapore's Police Coast Guard, Republic of Singapore Navy and Maritime and Port Authority will continue to protect and assert the Republic's sovereignty over the disputed waters off Tuas and the waters in Singapore port limits.
"Our security agencies carry out their operational duties with the utmost professionalism," he said, adding that Singapore's security personnel have repeatedly pressed the Malaysian vessels to leave the area.
"We will continue to do so as their presence does not strengthen Malaysia's legal claims in any way and indeed can result in mishaps or regrettable incidents," he said.