Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat

Vast potential for Malaysia, Singapore to move ahead together: PM Lee

The Singapore and Malaysian delegations meeting at Perdana Putra in Putrajaya yesterday. In a joint statement issued after their Leaders' Retreat, both PMs said historical and cultural links are the foundation for stronger relations.
The Singapore and Malaysian delegations meeting at Perdana Putra in Putrajaya yesterday. In a joint statement issued after their Leaders' Retreat, both PMs said historical and cultural links are the foundation for stronger relations.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Both have much in common and can do more in a cooperative, mutually beneficial way, he says.

They may be close neighbours, but Singapore and Malaysia have evolved in different directions over the years, especially after 1965.

Yet they still have much in common, when seen within the Asean or global context, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday at a news conference with his host, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

"Singapore and Malaysia are very similar countries in terms of heritage, in terms of our rule of law, in terms of the connections we have with one another, and the comfort we have with one another," said PM Lee.

"We even argue who invented some of our foods first. So, there is an enormous overlap."

There is therefore tremendous potential for both countries to move ahead in a cooperative and mutually beneficial way, he added.

"Provided we work at the relationship and understand where you get the best satay, whether it is the Esplanade, Gardens by the Bay or whether you can get it at Satay Majid or Satay Kajang," he said, referring to popular satay haunts in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

The one-day Leaders' Retreat, an annual affair, was the first under the Pakatan Harapan government.

 
 
 

But it followed more than 50 ministerial-level visits and exchanges between both countries since the coalition led by Tun Dr Mahathir won the May 9 general election last year - and the familiarity was visible when ministers from both sides met yesterday. PM Lee was among the first leaders to visit Dr Mahathir last May, and Dr Mahathir visited Singapore in November ahead of the Asean Summit.

Yesterday, Dr Mahathir accepted PM Lee's invitation to him and his wife to visit the Republic for its Bicentennial National Day Parade on Aug 9.

Responding to a question on how he saw ties with Singapore developing further, Dr Mahathir said ties "have always been good, at least we are always on talking terms".

He added: "If we have problems, we air our problems, sometimes publicly, sometimes privately. What we have not done is that we have not confronted each other, or even suggested that we should resolve our problem through violent action like going to war with Singapore."

This is not a minor achievement, he said, pointing to how throughout the world, most countries that have problems with their neighbours try to solve the problems through violence and through wars. "In the end, both sides will lose."

He said: "That is our relation with Singapore. It is a relation between, I think, two civilised people who do not believe in violence."

 
 
 
 

Both leaders had a four-eyes meeting yesterday morning, followed by a second meeting with their respective delegations.

Dr Mahathir and his wife Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali then hosted a luncheon for the Singapore delegation at Seri Perdana, the Prime Minister's official residence.

In a joint statement issued after their retreat, both PMs said the historical and cultural links are the foundation for stronger relations.

They also looked forward to Singapore hosting the 10th Leaders' Retreat next year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2019, with the headline 'Vast potential for Malaysia, S'pore to move ahead together: PM Lee'. Print Edition | Subscribe