GEORGE TOWN, Penang: Singapore and Malaysia are permanent neighbours and the destiny of both countries depends on the ability to have a constructive bilateral relationship, said Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan on Friday (Aug 30).
Dr Balakrishnan, who was speaking to journalists as he wrapped up his visit to Kedah and Penang, was reflecting on the relationship between the sides, a day before Malaysia’s national day celebrations.
“Tomorrow is Merdeka Day, and on behalf of Singapore and Singaporeans, I want to wish all Malaysians all the very best on this special day,” he said.
He added that Merdeka Day was an opportunity for both sides to reflect on their close history and look forward to candid, constructive dialogue.
“We will always have differences from time to time, sometimes even prickly issues. But the future and the destiny for both our sovereign nations depends so much more on what we share and our ability to have a constructive relationship, based on mutual respect and trust,” added Dr Balakrishnan.
His visit to northern Malaysia was part of initial steps taken by Singapore leaders to deepen engagement with their counterparts at the state level, and beyond just the federal level.
Dr Balakrishnan noted that this was “just the first of many trips to come” with him looking to visit states on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia, Borneo states Sabah and Sarawak, as well as Johor.
MALAYSIA "BLESSED TO HAVE LEADERS" FROM DIFFERENT COMMUNITIES
During his trip, the minister met various politicians from both Kedah and Penang. He noted that Malaysia was “blessed to have many leaders” from different communities with varying perspectives.
He lauded the young political leaders he met, including Kedah's chief minister Mukhriz Mahathir and Permatang Pauh lawmaker Nurul Izzah Anwar.
Dr Balakrishnan noted that Mr Mukhriz was a man “in a hurry to uplift livelihoods and standards of living in Kedah”, while Ms Nurul Izzah was a “charismatic” and “dynamic leader” eager to make a difference in her constituency.
Mr Mukhriz is the son of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad while Ms Nurul Izzah is the daughter of prime minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim.
“I think both of them want to be judged on their own merits ... Both of them also have the weight of enormous expectations on them," he said.
"Give them time and space, give them time to prove their worth and get the support from their own people. In due course, we hope to have good constructive relations as neighbours."
"INTERESTING PARALLELS" BETWEEN SINGAPORE AND PENANG
Following his meeting with Penang Governor Abdul Rahman Abbas and Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow, Dr Balakrishnan noted on Friday that Penang and Singapore shared “interesting parallels”. There is also room to beef up exchanges between the two sides, he added.
As former Straits Settlements, Singapore and Penang share a similar culture, food and even street names, he said.
“Having said that, of course one big difference is that Penang is part of Malaysia, whereas Singapore is an independent sovereign nation,” said the minister. “Obviously, we have the advantage of making our own decisions and being a single layer of government.”
He noted that both Singapore and Penang are manufacturing and logistics hubs.
He said that Penang and Singapore could collaborate in areas such as tackling climate change and maintaining cultural heritage.
Pulau Pinang and Singapore are both islands, and thus have facilities and residential areas near the sea that could be impacted by rising sea levels, said Dr Balakrishnan.
Turning to cultural heritage, he noted that Penang has the right balance between infrastructural projects and maintaining its unique charm and identity.
“I think that he (Mr Chow) is doing a great job. I pointed out to him that similarly if you visit Singapore and go to Chinatown or Little India or even some of our shophouses, there is a way in which you can preserve the beauty and charm of the past and yet still ensure that it remains up to date. The activities are sustainable both economically and from an environmental point of view.”
In a statement issued on Friday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Dr Balakrishnan and Mr Chow had a “fruitful discussion on ways to expand collaboration between Singapore and Penang across various sectors”.
The minister also invited Mr Chow to visit Singapore at a mutually convenient time.
Dr Balakrishnan also hosted tea for several Penang State Executive Council members, said the statement.
“He was updated on developments in Penang, and explored new areas of mutually beneficial cooperation between Singapore and Penang. Minister Balakrishnan welcomed further exchanges of visits by officials on both sides in the future.”
Dr Balakrishnan returned to Singapore on Friday.