Singapore open to security cooperation with Malaysia at sea

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said it would make no sense for Singapore and Malaysia to deploy more resources around Pedra Branca or Middle Rocks if they could work together.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said it would make no sense for Singapore and Malaysia to deploy more resources around Pedra Branca or Middle Rocks if they could work together.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Joint patrols or rescue missions a possibility around Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks: Eng Hen

Singapore welcomes Malaysia's suggestion of security cooperation in the waters around the once-disputed Pedra Branca and Middle Rocks, and is keen to explore joint patrols or search-and-rescue missions.

Adding that collaboration would be a win-win for the two neighbours, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen told Singapore and foreign media on Friday that he completely agreed with the suggestion made by his Malaysian counterpart Mohamad Sabu in an interview with The Straits Times published on the same day.

Mr Mohamad said both countries can work together to strengthen security cooperation in the entry lane to the Singapore Strait.

Currently, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand conduct joint patrols along the Malacca Strait from the Andaman Sea down to the Singapore Strait and its entry point from the South China Sea.

Dr Ng said it would make no sense for Singapore and Malaysia to both deploy more resources around Pedra Branca or Middle Rocks if they could work together, adding that joint patrols or search-and-rescue missions were possibilities.

"I think... certainly as closest neighbours, collaboration is a win-win and we will look for more opportunities to do things together," he added.

Dr Ng said there are many meetings lined up - be it Asean or bilateral ones - where these possibilities would be explored.

During the interview held ahead of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Day today, Dr Ng sketched a vision of the next-generation SAF, and said a decision on the replacement of the ageing F-16 fighter jets is likely in the next few months. The interview centred on SAF modernisation efforts and the global terrorism threat.

Dr Ng was also asked about bilateral ties with Malaysia, which have come under strain after Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Malaysia would review the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High-Speed Rail project. He also said Malaysia would consider re-negotiating a long-standing water supply deal.

Memories of a long-running territorial dispute between both countries have also been rekindled by Tun Mahathir's recent remarks that the structure on Middle Rocks could be enlarged to form a small island.

This was after Malaysia, on May 28, withdrew its application to revise a 2008 International Court of Justice judgment that said Pedra Branca belongs to Singapore, giving up for good its right to challenge Singapore's sovereignty over the island. The 2008 judgment also ruled that Middle Rocks belongs to Malaysia.

On ties with Malaysia, Dr Ng said there is a need to deal with new governments with maturity, respect and understanding.

Maturity is needed to know that new governments would do things differently and are sometimes dealing with their domestic audience, he added. Respect must be given to the new governments, while it is also important to understand their predicament and challenges.

Dr Mahathir came to power after winning the May 9 general election.

"So I would approach the first few months of the new Malaysian government with maturity, respect and understanding... And where we can help, we will. But it is out of mutual respect and mutual benefit."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 01, 2018, with the headline 'Singapore open to security cooperation with Malaysia at sea'. Print Edition | Subscribe