SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Monday (Nov 12) reaffirmed the strong relationship between Singapore and Malaysia, during an official lunch hosted in honour of Dr Mahathir and his wife Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali at the Istana.
The Malaysian prime minister is in Singapore on an official visit from Monday to Tuesday, his first official visit since he was elected prime minister in May.
The two leaders had a "wide-ranging discussion" on bilateral and regional issues of mutual concern, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement.
Speaking at the lunch, Mr Lee affirmed the "close friendship" between Singapore and Malaysia, pointing out that this occasion was far from the first time Dr Mahathir had visited Singapore. The 93-year-old previously led Malaysia for 22 years prior to his re-election.
"I welcome the opportunity today to reaffirm the close friendship between our countries and also to continue our discussion when I called upon Dr Mahathir in Putrajaya in May, soon after the elections in Malaysia," said Prime Minister Lee.
The two men had a good meeting on Monday and "discussed ways to deepen our bilateral cooperation", said Mr Lee.
He also stressed the close ties between the two countries.
"Malaysia is Singapore's closest neighbour and vice-versa," he said. "We are bound by geography and history, our economies are extensively intertwined because we are each other's second largest trading partners, and Singapore is Malaysia's second largest foreign investor."
"Our relationship is further strengthened by bonds of kinship, friendship and memories," added Mr Lee. "We all have friends and relatives who live, study or work across the Causeway, and we feel at home when we visit each other."
He said Singapore and Malaysia would "always have a unique place for each other in our hearts", and added that he looked forward to working with Dr Mahathir and his government to strengthen the "special bond" between the two countries.
Dr Mahathir similarly highlighted the close relationship between Malaysia and Singapore.
Speaking during the lunch, Dr Mahathir said that Singapore and Malaysia are "like twins" who are able to live together in harmony.
"Malaysia and Singapore are like twins in a way, excepting that perhaps the elder twin is a little bit bigger than the younger twin, and a little bit older," said Dr Mahathir. "But we have been able to live together in reasonably harmonious terms."
The two countries work together and help each other out, added Dr Mahathir.
"It is not often that you see countries which come together and then separated and still be able to work together and help each other," he said.
"With regard to the help extended by Singapore, I wish to record here our appreciation for the help extended by Singapore during the present currency crisis we had recently," he added. "If there is any way we can return the hospitality, we will try to do so."
There will always be competition between two countries, said Dr Mahathir, but the most important thing is to continue the good relations. "As between two countries there will be some differences, there will also be competition, as between two countries, but the competition is always healthy.
"It helps us to really make every effort to win in any competition, and this really helps us to grow even faster."
Mr Lee emphasised Singapore’s intention to continue "constructive, forward-looking relations" with Malaysia, said MFA in its statement.
He reiterated Singapore's commitment to build on strong existing cooperation and find new areas where both sides "can collaborate for the benefit of the people of Singapore and Malaysia", it added.
Mr Lee also expressed appreciation to Dr Mahathir for Malaysia’s support for Singapore’s ASEAN chairmanship, and both leaders agreed to work together to continue strengthening ASEAN, said MFA.
During his visit, Dr Mahathir was welcomed with an honour guard at the Istana. He also met President Halimah Yacob and had an orchid - the Dendrobium Mahathir Siti Hasmah - named after him and Dr Siti Hasmah.
Dr Mahathir and Mdm Halimah affirmed the "deep historical and people-to-people ties" which form the foundation of Singapore-Malaysia bilateral relations, said MFA.
On Tuesday, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong will host a lunch for Dr Mahathir.
In addition, Dr Mahathir’s alma mater the National University of Singapore will confer on him an Honorary Doctorate of Laws.
The Malaysian prime minister will also attend the 33rd ASEAN Summit and Related Meetings from Tuesday to Thursday.