ALOR SETAR, Kedah: Leaders from Singapore and Malaysia need to develop personal ties to achieve win-win outcomes and forge a positive relationship between both countries, Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan said on Thursday (Aug 29).
Dr Balakrishnan was speaking to Singapore media in Alor Setar after an audience with Kedah's ruler Sultan Sallehuddin Sultan Badlishah.
He also met Kedah's chief minister Mukhriz Mahathir - the son of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad - as well as several state executive council members.
Dr Balakrishnan highlighted that his visit to the northern state is part of initial steps being taken by Singapore leaders to ramp up efforts to engage Malaysian leaders at the state level, and beyond just the federal level.
The minister said: "Both in Malaysia and in Singapore, there's a generational change occurring at all levels, including the political one.
"It is very important that leaders, politicians meet one another, get to know one another at a personal level, understand our different perspectives, our common challenges."
"Relationships have to be built one on one. Trust comes about by doing things together, explaining different perspectives," he added.
Experienced leaders such as Dr Mahathir made friends with Singapore leaders from his days studying in Singapore, Dr Balakrishnan noted.
Younger leaders have had fewer opportunities to study and work with one another, he continued.
"Having said that, I think we need to make the effort to meet, to interact, to explain, to plan and to collaborate. I think if we can do that, that's win-win and that is good for our relationship," he said.
COLLABORATION WITH KEDAH
Following discussions with the Kedah ruler and senior politicians, Dr Balakrishnan outlined how Singapore and Kedah could collaborate further in areas such as agriculture, tourism and technology.
He added that they discussed the possibility of a high tech park, as Kedah businesses are engaged in areas such as solar panels, electronics, specialised parts for aircraft.
The leaders also talked about ways to raise awareness of Kedah as a tourist destination, and how to boost two-way flow of people between Singapore and Kedah.
"Most people are familiar with Langkawi, I think (fewer) people are familiar with Alor Setar and the mainland part of Kedah itself and all that it offers," Dr Balakrishnan said.
Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a press statement that the Sultan of Kedah and Dr Balakrishnan "reaffirmed the longstanding friendship between Singapore and Kedah" and they looked forward to "expanding cooperation" with each other.
During his trip, Dr Balakrishnan also expressed appreciation for the warm reception from Kedah leaders, and extended an invitation to Sultan Sallehuddin, Mr Mukhriz and his state exco members to visit Singapore.
"We had sincere, candid open discussions ... It's not just about personalities, although personal ties are important, but a mutual recognition that there's so much more out there," he said.
"The opportunities are ripe for harvesting. We need to focus on those.
"Frankly, from my interactions (with Malaysian leaders) both at the federal level and the state level, the positive aspects far outweigh the differences."
Later on Thursday evening, Dr Balakrishnan met Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar, the daughter of Malaysia's prime minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim.
Ms Nurul Izzah and her team briefed Dr Balakrishnan on the Pauh Agenda – a social impact programme in her constituency aimed at addressing needs on the ground.
He was hosted on a tour of the constituency and service centre, followed by dinner, Singapore's MFA said.
"I really appreciate that the minister was very down to earth and willing to hear us out ... because I wanted so much for this area, which is rural, to be able to take up the latest technological advances to improve their livelihood. So I think it is important to engage at this level, more so than the politics," she said.
"So of course we continue to learn from Singapore, we also just want to bridge divides."
Dr Balakrishnan thanked her for the "open and candid" discussion and lauded her efforts.
On Friday, he will be in Penang to meet the Governor Abdul Rahman Abbas, Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow and several members of his state executive council.
The meetings are part of Dr Balakrishnan's visit to the Malaysian states of Kedah and Penang this week to deepen Singapore's overall engagement with Malaysia at all levels.
Both Penang and Kedah are governed by the Pakatan Harapan coalition, which came into power after a historic win at Malaysia's 2018 General Election.