We are trying our best to find a peaceful solution: Khaw

Speaking to the local media, Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan said the Republic is committed to talks with Malaysia.
Speaking to the local media, Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan said the Republic is committed to talks with Malaysia.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan yesterday gave Singapore media an update on ongoing disputes with Malaysia. These are his remarks and replies to questions from reporters.

MR KHAW: We value our bilateral relations with Malaysia, that's why we are trying our best to find a peaceful solution to the current dispute. We explained to them that stationing their ships in our waters does not make an iota of difference to their legal claims. It doesn't enhance their legal case. They acknowledged this legal point, they committed to take all effective measures to de-escalate on the ground. This is a good move in the right direction. We too intend to manage this dispute in a calm and peaceful manner.

However, while they committed to de-escalate and have taken some steps, they do not agree to withdraw completely. This creates an unnecessary risk of an accidental escalation on the ground. That's why once again, we strongly urge Malaysia to withdraw from our waters. Otherwise, this risk is also not conducive to the upcoming bilateral discussions that we are going to hold next month. Meanwhile, our security agencies continue to patrol the waters and keep a close watch.

Q What steps has Malaysia taken to de-escalate?

A The last time we met, there were two major ships in our waters and, as of today, or since yesterday, they have reduced it to one.

Q If they don't withdraw their vessels altogether, will talks still go on?

A We are committed to talks and we will talk. That has always been our attitude. Peaceful resolution is always the best way forward. But as I said, it (stationing your ships) doesn't add to your legal case. And our worry all the time is accidents can happen. These are big ships - few thousand tons, and they move at great speed. You don't know what will happen, and it may not be intended, but what if accidents happen? Then what?

Q Can you talk about the Instrument Landing System (ILS) that Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke posted about on his Facebook page?

A I've watched the video, it's a good video. I commend their video team. But I think the video contains a few inaccuracies. Just one example: They talk about ILS (being) unlike a manual system. Sometimes you may confront a crane, for example, and it becomes a safety risk. That's not how ILS works. ILS is like autopilot in an aircraft, it is a tool for the pilot. The pilot can always have manual intervention if security concerns require it. So like autopilot, it doesn't mean the pilot doesn't have control. The pilot retains full control throughout the flight.

But the key point is, if it were a technical concern, with goodwill, I'm confident a mutually satisfactory technical solution can be found. The situation seems to be that they are using this technical excuse to trigger a demand to change the airspace arrangement which was brokered by ICAO (the International Civil Aviation Organisation) long, long ago in 1973, which has worked very well, benefiting all stakeholders in this region. So I'm truly baffled, I wonder why.

As transport ministries in two countries, we have worked very well together not just for a few years, but for many years, and not just bilaterally, but also in international fora - Asean, Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation), Asem (Asia-Europe Meeting), ICAO, IMO (International Maritime Organisation). We've achieved so much together. And then out of the blue in October, suddenly, they started a row - in air, water - what next? Land transport too? I wonder why.

Their leader has described our two countries and compared them to a pair of twins, and that's a good illustration. As twins, you ought to embrace each other and help each other grow, and help each other succeed and celebrate each other's achievements. Then I think it's so much better.

Q Malaysia has asked Singapore to consider reviewing the ILS flight path. Is this something Singapore is willing to consider?

A As I said, if it were a technical concern, with goodwill, I'm quite sure a technical solution that satisfies both sides can be found. But if it is not, it is just a technical excuse to trigger an unfriendly act. Then I think it's a different story. There's a Chinese expression - ben shi tong gen sheng, xiang jian he tai ji - You are cooking some bean soup, so you are boiling the beans in the pot using the beanstalk... (as fuel for) the fire. The beans are crying out in pain, but the beanstalk is not doing any better, it is also dying in the fire. What for?

Q Firefly has asked for its slots at Changi to be returned. Is this something Singapore or Changi Airport Group would consider?

A Firefly knew that we were shifting them to Seletar and they have planned on that basis. They have inspected Seletar and they are very pleased with Seletar Airport and, as a result, months ago, they applied for slots in Seletar and we welcomed them there. Their slots in Changi have therefore been given up, and redistributed to other airlines.

Q Should the meeting take place sooner?

A The meetings are being scheduled by the foreign affairs ministries of both countries. We have found a common slot - the second week of January - and we will proceed with the meeting.

Q Would you describe bilateral relations as at the lowest point right now?

A Four days ago I celebrated my birthday, I'm 66 this year. I wasn't born yesterday, and I have seen a lot. Whether this is the lowest point, it doesn't really matter. I think the key point is - as neighbours, you will always have some disputes and it's how you address them, and always have the hope and optimism that something better can come out of it. Let me sit down with you and understand. I described to you (last Thursday) that was how I worked with Minister Azmin Ali on the HSR (high-speed rail). We could have taken a completely legalistic approach to that project but we chose not to. I'm sure it can be applied to other sectors too. However, if you prefer to do something else, then there's a different approach. We have options too.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 13, 2018, with the headline 'We are trying our best to find a peaceful solution: Khaw'. Print Edition | Subscribe