Risk of escalation of tensions can't be underestimated: Chan

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing yesterday updated the media on the latest developments in Malaysia's claim to Singapore's territorial waters off Tuas. This is a transcript of his remarks.

WHAT IS THE CURRENT SITUATION ON THE GROUND?

The ground situation is tense. Ships are in close proximity to each other and we know that some ships are armed.

So the risk of escalation cannot be underestimated. Accidents can happen. We should revert to the pre-Oct 25th status quo ante for things to calm down.

And there are ways to do this under international law without prejudice to Malaysia. We have to be sensible about this.

WHAT TRIGGERED THE CURRENT DISPUTE?

We do not wish to speculate on Malaysia's domestic and bilateral considerations. We have seen this before. Older Malaysians must surely know and remember.

Just as in 1979. Singapore had been administering Pedra Branca for more than 100 years. Then suddenly, the Malaysians published a new map, unilaterally claiming Pedra Branca and the waters off Tuas. No consultation. No discussion.

UNNECESSARY, UNPRODUCTIVE

I have met various younger Malaysian leaders... We all agreed the competition is not so much between Singapore and Malaysia as between us and the rest of the world. I hope their actions will match their words. I hope they still believe in working together. If so, then we do not have to expend our energies managing all these unnecessary, unhelpful, unproductive activities.

MR CHAN CHUN SING, Minister for Trade and Industry.

That set off a dispute that lasted decades. Military forces were deployed, facing off each other at sea. We were brought up in that generation. We went to the ICJ (International Court of Justice) and even then we did not fully settle the issue.

Even as we speak today, we are still managing the issue. It has become a blemish on our bilateral ties.

Fast forward to 2018. Just when we are working on a fresh start with the new Malaysian Government, we find the pattern being repeated. As (Transport Minister Khaw) Boon Wan said - deja vu.

Let us look at the facts. The Singapore Navy and the Singapore Police Coast Guard have been patrolling the waters off Tuas for many years, decades. Then suddenly, the Malaysians again publish a new map with a new port limit. Again, no consultation. No discussion.

Claiming even more than what they did in 1979, which no one has even accepted. Claiming waters that Singapore has been patrolling and performing constabulary duties all these years, decades.

Now they are sending Malaysian government vessels into the area, inconsistent with innocent passage, conducting unlawful activities, and unauthorised activities under international law, refusing to leave. Then suggesting that Singapore vessels leave the area for talks to happen.

That is not right. That cannot be right. Even the layman can see that this cannot be right. You make a claim. You send forces in. You ask Singapore to leave.

As conditions to start talks? How can this be?

We have to be sincere. Singapore is sincere. We must re-establish the pre-Oct 25th position.

Malaysian ships must leave the area. Stop the unlawful activities.

Adding more ships and staying longer will not add to their claim. Using force and trying to change the facts at sea will also not add to their claim.

WHAT IS THE WAY FORWARD FOR SINGAPORE AND MALAYSIA?

I think the Malaysians and Malaysian government have a choice. Do we want to move forward constructively to prosper thy neighbour or do we want to colour yet another generation with beggar thy neighbour policies?

Since May, I have met various younger Malaysian leaders. They all expressed the hope that they want to work closer together.

We all agreed the competition is not so much between Singapore and Malaysia as between us and the rest of the world.

I hope their actions will match their words. I hope they still believe in working together. If so, then we do not have to expend our energies managing all these unnecessary, unhelpful, unproductive activities.

Malaysians do not benefit. Malaysia will not benefit. And I hope that the Malaysian leaders have the courage to do what is right and do what is good for our bilateral ties.

HOW HAS THE SINGAPORE GOVERNMENT RESPONDED TO MALAYSIA'S PROPOSAL?

This morning we responded to their latest Third Party Note (TPN). We made the following points to them.

First, we welcome talks. We can discuss the dates and the agenda. The Singapore Government is hopeful that through the engagement of both countries, the governments of Malaysia and Singapore can reach a swift and amicable resolution to this dispute.

But if such talks do not eventually produce an amicable resolution, the Singapore Government would be prepared for this matter to be settled by recourse to an appropriate international third-party dispute settlement procedure.

Second, importantly, let us calm down the ground situation first. Revert to the pre-Oct 25th status quo ante. Have the Malaysian ships leave the area peacefully, immediately.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 09, 2018, with the headline 'Risk of escalation of tensions can't be underestimated: Chan'. Print Edition | Subscribe