SINGAPORE: Singapore will deal with disputes with Malaysia “calmly and constructively”, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (Dec 31), as he expressed confidence that a new generation of Singaporeans will learn to "collectively protect our vital interests while living in peace and friendship with our neighbours".
The prime minister, in his New Year message, highlighted how the country is tending to relations with immediate neighbours Malaysia and Indonesia.
With Malaysia, which formed a new government following elections this May, Mr Lee noted that several issues have recently arisen between the two countries, "as they will from time to time between two close neighbours tightly bound by history, economics, culture and kinship".
“The new disputes on maritime boundaries, following provocative intrusions into our territorial waters, and on airspace, particularly the Instrument Landing System (ILS) rules for Seletar Airport, are more difficult to resolve,” the prime minister said.
“Malaysia also wants to revise the price of Johor water, an old issue recently revived, on which Singapore’s stand is quite clear."
Both countries must manage specific problems, however difficult, while preserving the overall relationship, Mr Lee stressed.
The way to do so is through equality and mutual respect, upholding international commitments and the rule of law, he said.
Pointing to past episodes of bilateral tensions, he said older Singaporeans will remember that they would unite as one people, standing their ground calmly but firmly, when rough patches hit.
“I am confident that this time too Singaporeans will work closely together to keep relations with Malaysia stable, and a new generation will learn how to collectively protect our vital interests while living in peace and friendship with our neighbours,” Mr Lee said.
As for Indonesia, relations have been “positive" with significant cooperation and investments flowing in both directions," the prime minister said.
TENSE US-CHINA RELATIONS NO GOOD FOR THE WORLD
Turning to the wider international space, Mr Lee said 2018 has been eventful with Singapore’s diplomats and officials busy flying the country’s flag.
In June, for instance, Singapore played host to the historic summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korea Chairman Kim Jong Un, while it was also chair for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Mr Lee sounded a note of caution, saying "the tide of geopolitics ebbs and flows" and pointed to tense relations between the US and China as a cause for concern.
"These tensions will cause problems for the world, and make it harder for countries to be friends with both," he said.
"If countries are forced to choose sides, the open and connected global order will be further divided, hurting one and all."