SINGAPORE: Singapore is ready to strengthen security cooperation with Malaysia near Middle Rocks and Pedra Branca, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said, adding that this would reduce resources needed to secure crucial shipping lanes in the area.
Malaysian Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu had proposed in an interview on Thursday that the two countries improve security in those waters, which serve as an entry point to the busy Singapore Strait that links major economies in the Middle East and East Asia.
“I completely support what he says,” Dr Ng told reporters on Friday (Jun 29) ahead of SAF Day. “It makes no sense to deploy more resources around Pedra Branca or Middle Rocks if we can decide on a common plan.”
Currently both countries, together with Indonesia and Thailand, conduct joint patrols along the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. Member navies meet regularly to review and improve coordination, and exchange intelligence on suspicious incidents.
“It would reduce our requirements there, and we can come to an understanding, as we do for search-and rescue missions,” Dr Ng said without elaborating further, as he praised his counterpart’s “enlightened perspective”.
As such, Dr Ng said he would explore the option at upcoming bilateral or multilateral meetings. “As (our) closest neighbours, certainly collaboration is a way, and we would look for more opportunities to do things together.”
The minister’s comments come as relations between Singapore and Malaysia are in the spotlight.
On Monday, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad called the price of water being sold to Singapore “ridiculous”, as he vowed to renegotiate the decades-old water agreement.
“I would approach the first few months of a Malaysian government with maturity, respect and understanding,” Dr Ng said. “Mature to know that with a new boss and new government, they will do it differently. And not to jump up and down when styles and priorities change.”
To that end, Dr Ng said Singapore need not “respond to every articulation”, adding that Malaysia could be dealing with an “internal audience”.
“You live in an HDB flat, a new neighbour comes in, you can hear through the walls what he says to his family, don’t keep knocking at your neighbour’s door to give inputs,” Dr Ng said. “Sometimes, it’s for his family, not yours.”
Nevertheless, Dr Ng said the two countries should have mutual respect for agreements and international law.
“If you talk about water, yes, there are water agreements,” he added. “If you talk about Middle Rocks, whatever they want to do if it complies with international law, you should respect they have the right to.”
In 2008, the International Court of Justice awarded Middle Rocks to Malaysia but ruled that nearby Pedra Branca belonged to Singapore. Malaysia filed a challenge to the ruling last year, but dropped it shortly after the Malaysian government took office.
Despite the challenges, Dr Ng said it is important that the countries work together. “If we can help, we will, but if it’s out of mutual respect and mutual benefit, we are both sovereign nations with our own needs,” he said.
On a lighter note, Dr Ng said relations between Malaysians and Singaporeans are “still very good”.
“There will never be a situation where fewer go to Malaysia and vice versa because the food is too good on both sides for instance, and we need places to relax,” he added. “We are neighbours for life. Just take it within our stride.”