Fix domestic issues instead of using foreign policy to win political support: Malaysian transport minister
SINGAPORE: Malaysia’s Transport Minister Anthony Loke said that the government should prioritise domestic issues affecting its citizens in order to win political support, instead of using foreign policy.
“As far as I'm concerned, I spend more time doing spot checks on LRT and MRT in Kuala Lumpur to get political support than talking about Pulau Batu Puteh or Pedra Branca,” he said at an ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute regional outlook forum in Singapore on Tuesday (Jan 10).
“So, I certainly do not agree that foreign policy is our political play. But I think that the people, especially the Malaysian public, are more aware that right now, what is important is how do you deliver your services? How do you ensure that you can bring about better policies and better execution of government initiatives? I think that's key.”
Mr Loke was responding to a question about Malaysia’s approach towards the Pedra Branca issue, and how some observers have said Malaysian politicians in government tend to use foreign policy to score domestic points.
On Dec 14, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said he had asked the Attorney-General to clarify Malaysia’s claims on Pedra Branca, which the International Court of Justice (ICJ) awarded to Singapore in 2008.
This was the first time that Mr Anwar has brought up the issue of Pedra Branca as Malaysia’s leader, after his predecessor Ismail Sabri Yaakob said in October that his Cabinet had agreed to proceed with legal action at the ICJ on the issue.
Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) responded then that Singapore stood ready to "robustly defend" its sovereignty over Pedra Branca, located near the eastern entrance of the Straits of Singapore, about 44km east of mainland Singapore.
The dispute over Pedra Branca dates back to 1979, when Malaysia published a map indicating that the island was within the country’s territorial waters.
The matter was brought to the ICJ in 2003, and on May 23, 2008, it ruled that Singapore had sovereignty over Pedra Branca, while Middle Rocks was awarded to Malaysia and South Ledge belonged to the state in whose territorial waters it is located.
"After the Court's decision, both Singapore and Malaysia publicly announced that they will accept and abide by the Court's decision which is final," MFA said.
"In 2017, Malaysia instituted an application for revision and a request for interpretation of the Court's 2008 decision, which were subsequently withdrawn by Malaysia in 2018.
"Under the Statute of the Court, an application for revision cannot be made after the expiry of 10 years from the date of the Court’s 2008 judgment, that is, May 2018."
Mr Loke said on Tuesday: “First of all, my answer is that that is not under my jurisdiction. That is the foreign minister's affair. It's not under the Ministry of Transport.
“But I do not agree that we always use foreign policy to shore up our support locally. I think on a practical sense, and I can testify that domestic issues - if we address domestic issues well - it can win us more support.”
Mr Loke said his aim was to deliver “more stable” train services in Kuala Lumpur, highlighting that he met Singapore’s Transport Minister S Iswaran on Monday, and will meet its former transport minister Khaw Boon Wan on Tuesday evening.
“Because he (Mr Khaw) fixed the MRT services in Singapore, I will ask him how he did that. So that is something I will bring back to KL,” Mr Loke said.
The public rail system in Malaysia has suffered from frequent breakdowns.
On Nov 9, after Malaysia’s parliament was dissolved ahead of the 15th General Election (GE15), hundreds of thousands of Klang Valley commuters were left frustrated after 16 stations on an LRT line had to be shut down due to a malfunction.
Mr Loke said then that his coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) would give the LRT system high priority should it be given the mandate in GE15. PH is now part of the unity government led by coalition chairman Mr Anwar.
Mr Loke was also asked about Mr Anwar’s first official visit as prime minister to Indonesia and what this meant for Singapore. During his visit from Sunday to Monday, Mr Anwar was quoted as saying that Indonesia was a good neighbour and a true friend.
Mr Loke said Mr Anwar was keeping to a tradition in the Malaysian government, that the first official visit by a Malaysian prime minister would be to Indonesia.
“But of course, he will come to Singapore for his second trip,” he said.
“So if you ask me, if Indonesia is a true friend of Malaysia and Anwar, then Singapore should be the best friend of Malaysia and Anwar.”