Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's statement yesterday that altered port limits for Johor Baru port did not touch Singapore's border drew a firm response from the Singapore Government.
"Malaysian PM Mahathir claimed that the recent purported extension of the Johor Baru port limits has not 'touched' Singapore's border. Singapore reiterates that Singapore's territorial waters do extend westward of our current port limits around Tuas," a spokesman for Singapore's Ministry of Transport said.
"Accordingly, the purported extension of the Johor Baru port limits encroaches into Singapore's territorial waters in the area and is a serious violation of Singapore's sovereignty and international law," the spokesman added.
Tun Dr Mahathir told reporters on the sidelines of an event in Selangor: "We can measure to see if it is true or not, but we had not touched their border." He added: "We are still within our own waters."
But in a call between the foreign ministers of both countries, Singapore's Dr Vivian Balakrishnan told Malaysia's Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah that the altered Johor Baru port limit "now extends beyond even the limits of Malaysia's territorial sea claim in the area, as set out in Malaysia's own 1979 map". Singapore has never accepted that map.
The exchange came a day after two disputes between the neighbours became public on Tuesday.
Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke told his country's Parliament that Kuala Lumpur planned to retake control of airspace over south Johor that had been delegated to Singapore. He said Malaysia was also protesting against new flight procedures - the Instrument Landing System (ILS) - from Seletar Airport on the grounds that it would stunt development of Johor's Pasir Gudang industrial district.
Singapore's Transport Ministry disclosed on the same day that it had lodged a strong protest with Kuala Lumpur over the move to unilaterally extend the Johor Baru port limits as this encroached into the Republic's territorial waters. The ministry also said vessels from Malaysia's Maritime Enforcement Agency and Marine Department had repeatedly intruded into Singapore waters off Tuas, and that Singapore had protested against these unauthorised movements and assertions of sovereignty.
VIOLATION OF SOVEREIGNTY AND LAW
Malaysian PM Mahathir claimed that the recent purported extension of the Johor Baru port limits has not 'touched' Singapore's border. Singapore reiterates that Singapore's territorial waters do extend westward of our current port limits around Tuas. Accordingly, the purported extension of the Johor Baru port limits encroaches into Singapore's territorial waters in the area and is a serious violation of Singapore's sovereignty and international law.
A SPOKESMAN FOR SINGAPORE'S MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT
In a statement yesterday, Mr Loke said that "Malaysia finds Singapore's claims to be inaccurate as the altered port limits for Johor Baru port have not in any way encroached into any part of Singapore".
He suggested the dispute was due to land reclamation, saying: "Singapore has in recent years carried out extensive land reclamation in the area in question. In accordance with international law, the territorial sea of Singapore remains unchanged even when reclamation has been carried out almost to the outer limits of Singapore's territorial sea."
Mr Loke claimed the altered port limits are within Malaysia's territorial sea, and urged Singapore to withdraw its Nov 30 circular instructing ship masters and owners of vessels to disregard Malaysia's notices, which Singapore said impinged on the Republic's sovereignty.
In the afternoon, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) issued a statement on Dr Balakrishnan's phone call with Mr Saifuddin. Dr Balakrishnan urged Malaysia to "cease its intrusions so as to comply with international law and to avoid escalating tensions on the ground".
On airspace issues, which Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan had discussed with Mr Loke, Dr Balakrishnan emphasised that Singapore respected Malaysia's sovereignty, and that it was in the interest of both countries to ensure the safety of civil aviation over the skies.
He conveyed to Mr Saifuddin that "any proposal should ensure that the safety and efficiency of civilian air traffic were not compromised and remained in accordance with ICAO standards, processes and procedures". ICAO refers to the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
Dr Balakrishnan also said that "Singapore and Malaysia should continue to discuss these issues constructively, and emphasised the importance of maintaining a good bilateral relationship between close neighbours and compliance with international law", MFA added.
In the evening, Malaysia's Foreign Ministry issued a statement to say that Malaysia had conveyed two protest notes through the Singapore High Commissioner in Kuala Lumpur.
The first reiterated Malaysia's call for the immediate withdrawal of the publication of the ILS and approach procedures for Seletar Airport by Singapore.
The second rejected Singapore's position that the new Johor Baru port limits had encroached on the Republic's territorial waters off Tuas and violated its sovereignty and international law.
"It is within Malaysia's right as a sovereign state to deploy its enforcement and implementation agencies within its territorial sea," the Malaysian statement said.
"The Malaysian government is confident that both countries acknowledge and value the good and strong bilateral relations," it added, noting these sentiments were expressed most recently by both countries' prime ministers when Dr Mahathir visited Singapore last month.
"For this reason, it is important to avoid any acts which may lead to escalation and fuel tension," it said, adding that Malaysia has proposed a meeting between both foreign ministries to discuss outstanding maritime boundary issues.