KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Saturday (Dec 8) said he welcomes negotiations with Singapore on a dispute over maritime borders between the two countries.
"A lot of people announce their borders off and on, and that causes a lot of disputes, so we will settle the disputes based on legal provisions and our rights," he said at a press conference after a Pakatan Harapan meeting.
"The important thing is that Singapore agrees to a negotiation, until we finish negotiation we cannot give a final answer."
He did not give specific reasons when reporters asked why Malaysia had extended its Johor port limits in October - a move that Singapore has called a "serious violation" of its sovereignty and international law.
Dr Mahathir had earlier said that the new Johor port limits, gazetted on Oct 25, has not "touched" Singapore's border.
Singapore's Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan announced on Thursday that Singapore has also extended its Tuas port limits in view of "provocative developments". Malaysian ships had intruded in Singapore waters repeatedly in the last two weeks, he had said.
As of Friday afternoon, three Malaysian government vessels were still in Singapore waters despite repeated calls from Singapore ministers for them to leave the area.
MUHYIDDIN CALL FOR TALKS
Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Saturday also said he hopes that Singapore’s dispute with Malaysia over their maritime boundary and airspace over southern Johor can be discussed at the negotiation table.
This is necessary and vital to prevent any unnecessary rivalry between the two countries, he said to reporters after opening the Johor convention of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu).
"I followed what the Minister of Singapore mentioned a few days ago that they (Singapore) would like to resolve this amicably; so that is a good move. We do not want to spark an unnecessary rivalry that creates a lot of dissatisfaction," he said.
"Singapore-Malaysia relations have been good. It is quite normal (to have problems). Even when I was the menteri besar (of Johor), we had problems (too) but the fact is that both countries want to work together."
"GROUND SITUATION IS TENSE"
Singapore's Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said, also on Saturday, that with the "risk of escalation cannot be underestimated" in the ongoing dispute.
"The ground situation is tense. The ships are in close proximity with one another and we know that some ships are armed, so the risk of escalation cannot be underestimated. Accidents might happen,” he had said.
"We urge all parties to revert to the pre-Oct 25 status quo ante for things to calm down. And there are ways to do this under international law without prejudice to Malaysia."
Mr Chan also said Singapore welcomes talks to find a "swift and amicable resolution" to the issue, and that in the event of a failure to reach an agreement, Singapore is open to seeking recourse through an "appropriate international third-party dispute-settlement procedure".
“Sending Malaysian government vessels into the area inconsistent with innocent passage, conducting unlawful and unauthorised activities under international law, refusing to leave, then suggesting that Singapore vessels leave the area for talks to happen. That’s not right. Even the layman can see that this cannot be right," Mr Chan said.