PARLIAMENT

Vivian: Ties with KL on more stable footing, but much work ahead

Singapore and Malaysia flags at the Perdana Putra building in Putrajaya, where Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad met for the leaders' retreat last month. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Singapore and Malaysia flags at the Perdana Putra building in Putrajaya, where Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad met for the leaders' retreat last month.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Foreign Minister gives update on last month's leaders' retreat

Relations with Malaysia are "now on a more stable footing but there is still much work to be done", Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in Parliament yesterday.

He also reiterated that Singapore is ready and willing to cooperate with Malaysia in a spirit of goodwill and neighbourliness, as he gave an update on last month's Singapore-Malaysia Leaders' Retreat when maritime, water, airspace and land transport matters were discussed.

He was replying to Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC), who had asked about the state of relations following the meeting.

On land connectivity, the minister said Singapore believes the Johor Baru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link and Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR) are "mutually beneficial projects that will significantly ease congestion, facilitate business and tourism, and bring the people of Malaysia and Singapore closer together".

Both countries are working on an agreement to suspend the RTS project for six months from April 1 this year, he added.

As for the HSR project, they signed a deal last September to suspend it up till May 31 next year.

"The ball is now in their court and we hope that Malaysia will find a way forward in the projects within the period of suspension that they have requested," he told the House.

On water, Dr Balakrishnan said the countries' attorneys-general are having further discussions on the two sides' differing positions on the legal right to review the price under the 1962 Water Agreement.

 LIM YAOHUI

MAINTAINING GOOD RELATIONS

Singapore and Malaysia will always be close neighbours and issues will inevitably crop up from time to time.

What is important is that we continue to keep the channels of communication open, we discuss these issues in a calm and constructive way on the basis of equality and mutual respect. We honour our international agreements fully and we find amicable win-win solutions in accordance with international law.

FOREIGN MINISTER VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN

"While Malaysia is apparently most concerned about the price of raw water, this issue cannot be viewed in isolation," he added and spelt out two situations.

First, if there is any revision in the price of raw water, the price of treated water that Singapore sells to Johor will also have to be revised.

Second, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted at the recent retreat Singapore's grave concerns about the multiple pollution incidents that have affected the Johor River and its long-term yield.

Singapore said this week there have been seven pollution incidents along the Johor River since 2017 that caused the PUB's Johor River Waterworks plant to be shut down temporarily.

Johor has also built at least two water treatment plants and together with Singapore's facility, they draw more than the Johor River can yield on a sustainable basis, Dr Balakrishnan said.

"These issues, if not addressed, will compromise Singapore's right to extract our full 250 million gallons a day entitlement of water under the 1962 Water Agreement.

"They will also affect the water supply for Johor's own growing needs, and action needs to be taken expeditiously to avoid a potentially more intractable issue in the future. This is a problem which is clear and present and we can see it looming."

The minister also said officials from both aides will follow up by identifying measures to increase the river's yield, and safeguarding its environmental conditions and the quality of water.

On airspace matters, he said technical agencies from both countries are in talks to implement the Global Positioning System-based instrument approach procedures at Seletar Airport soon, for both the northern and southern approaches.

He also talked of Malaysia's intention to review the existing arrangements of Singapore providing air traffic services over southern peninsular Malaysia.

In 1974, both countries inked an agreement to operationalise this arrangement. This was based on decisions reached at the 1973 Asia-Pacific Regional Air Navigation meeting held under the auspices of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Any proposal to change the arrangements must be according to ICAO standards, processes and procedures and the 1973 decision, the minister said. "Discussions on the review of the 1974 operational letter of agreement will involve consultations with many regional and global stakeholders. This will take time, it cannot be rushed."

On the issue of port limits, the minister said negotiations will start soon when a committee co-chaired by the Foreign Affairs Ministry's permanent secretary and Malaysia's Foreign Affairs Ministry's secretary-general meet.

Concluding, Dr Balakrishnan said: "Singapore and Malaysia will always be close neighbours and issues will inevitably crop up from time to time.

"What is important is that we continue to keep the channels of communication open, we discuss these issues in a calm and constructive way on the basis of equality and mutual respect. We honour our international agreements fully and we find amicable win-win solutions in accordance with international law."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2019, with the headline 'Vivian: Ties with KL on more stable footing, but much work ahead'. Print Edition | Subscribe