Singapore, Malaysian foreign ministers to meet here on Jan 8

S'pore has raised concern over 'restricted area' set up over Pasir Gudang

Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah was quoted by Malaysian media as saying the dispute over airspace would be on the agenda of the meeting.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah was quoted by Malaysian media as saying the dispute over airspace would be on the agenda of the meeting.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

The foreign ministers of Singapore and Malaysia will meet here on Jan 8, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday.

This follows a meeting that Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat had with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Monday, said the ministry in response to media queries.

Mr Teo and Mr Heng had visited Putrajaya to convey a message to Tun Dr Mahathir on behalf of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the ministry said. It added that there were also plans for both countries' transport ministers to meet soon.

The statement did not elaborate on what would be discussed, but Bernama quoted Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah as saying the dispute over airspace would be on the agenda.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Datuk Saifuddin revealed the Dec 31 meeting between Mr Teo and Dr Mahathir. "My visit to Singapore is a continuation of the meeting yesterday," he said. "There are several issues, but the one that must be given immediate attention is Singapore's plans for the Seletar Airport which will pass through the airspace over Pasir Gudang, Johor."

He was also quoted as saying: "We protested and declared the airspace a restricted area, and this will be a problem to Singapore. I am confident the issue will be discussed well to find a win-win solution for both countries."

In response to media queries, Singapore's Ministry of Transport yesterday said the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia had published a Notice to Airmen on Dec 25.


The notice informed the aviation community of Malaysia's establishment of a permanent Restricted Area for the purpose of military activities over Pasir Gudang with effect from today.

"The Restricted Area being within a controlled and congested airspace will impact the existing and normal operations of aircraft transiting through the airspace," said the Ministry of Transport.

"We have raised with Malaysia our concerns over the Restricted Area's adverse impact on civil aviation. Singapore has proposed to meet with Malaysia to discuss its establishment of the Restricted Area," it said.

Airspace - as well as port limits - has become a bilateral issue in recent months.

Malaysia has objected to new landing procedures at Seletar Airport that are scheduled to be enforced tomorrow. It claims the Instrument Landing System (ILS) procedures will adversely affect developments in Johor's Pasir Gudang Port, and wants to reclaim management of the airspace where Singapore has been providing air traffic services since 1974.

Singapore has pointed out that ILS - which will guide pilots landing there with ground instruments instead of relying on their visual assessment - will not pose any safety or security risks to operations at Pasir Gudang Port.

It has also said that management of the skies has nothing to do with sovereignty, but it was delegated to Singapore under an agreement with regional states, including Malaysia, in 1973, and this was approved by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

On Oct 25, Kuala Lumpur also unilaterally extended the Johor Baru port limits such that they encroach on Singapore's territorial waters off Tuas. In response to the expanded port boundaries, Singapore extended its own port limits on Dec 6, a move that drew protest from Malaysia. Both countries had earlier agreed to meet this month.

In his New Year's message released on Monday, PM Lee said issues with Malaysia will be dealt with "calmly and constructively". He said Singapore and Malaysia must manage specific problems, however difficult, while preserving the overall relationship. The way to do so is through equality and mutual respect, upholding international commitments and the rule of law, he added.

Dr Mahathir yesterday welcomed PM Lee's remarks and said he is confident the problems can be resolved through negotiation. According to Malaysian Chinese-language newspaper China Press, Dr Mahathir addressed the matter while attending an event in Langkawi. "Our ties with Singapore are good. Currently, we are facing some problems, but these problems can be resolved through negotiations," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2019, with the headline 'S'pore, Malaysian foreign ministers to meet here on Jan 8'. Print Edition | Subscribe