SINGAPORE: Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim said on Friday (Apr 26) that Singapore and Malaysia are "great neighbours", adding that contentious bilateral issues must be "handled with care".
Mr Anwar, who was speaking during a plenary session at the Inter-Pacific Bar Association (IPBA) conference, said Malaysian leaders consider Singapore to be a great neighbour and friend, and the two countries should continue to explore avenues to enhance the relationship between them.
“All neighbours … will have contentious issues. But the overriding interests are important here. Singapore and Malaysia have so much in common,” he said.
“We have common history, we are mutually dependent. It would benefit us, Malaysia and Singapore, immensely - economically, socially, culturally, security - if we work together more effectively, based on trust of course.”
He added: “It is an imperative notwithstanding some contentious issues which must be handled with care and must be resolved amicably. That is very clear as a matter of policy.”
He maintained that it was important for Malaysia to be on good terms with neighbouring countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and “more so” with Singapore.
“No countries now in ASEAN, has that sort of relationship - a common history and even family bonds - like Malaysia and Singapore.”
Mr Anwar also highlighted that both countries should explore new avenues to enhance their relationship, particularly during this period of transition in his country.
His comments came on the back of various bilateral issues that have arisen between both countries in recent months, including maritime boundaries and airspace.
During a Leaders’ Retreat between both countries earlier this month, the prime ministers of Singapore and Malaysia affirmed their commitment to a cooperative and forward-looking bilateral relationship.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said that as close neighbours, Singapore and Malaysia must expect issues to arise from time to time.
“But provided we address them in a constructive spirit, we can manage the problems and work towards win-win outcomes," he had said.
During the dialogue on Friday, Mr Anwar also highlighted that both countries have evolved differently since they achieved independence.
“Singapore started out as a very rugged society, but they have become a bit tough with their negotiations,” he said with a laugh.
Singapore’s Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, who was in the audience during Mr Anwar’s dialogue, praised Mr Anwar’s oratory skills during his opening address for the session earlier on Friday morning.
“Datuk Seri (Anwar Ibrahim) has been known for something like 40-50 years now as one of the most charismatic politicians on either sides of the causeway. If you listen to his rally speeches, they are something else,” said Mr Shanmugam.
He also recalled watching Mr Anwar’s political rally speeches from his office and said that he uses excerpts of the speeches when presenting during closed-door sessions.
“But at the same time it has been a roller coaster ride in politics (for Mr Anwar). He has reached the heights and also there have been some very difficult moments of extreme turbulence,” he said.
“We wish you and Malaysia the very best as we look to the future,” the minister added.