SINGAPORE: Malaysia will immediately suspend its permanent restricted area in the airspace over Pasir Gudang, while Singapore will similarly suspend its implementation of Instrument Landing System (ILS) procedures for Seletar Airport.
The suspension will be in place for one month in the first instance, said the foreign ministers of both countries in a joint press statement on Tuesday (Jan 8) after meeting in Singapore to discuss bilateral issues, including the ongoing dispute over airspace.
In the meantime, the transport ministers of both countries should meet "soon" for discussions on the permanent restricted area over Pasir Gudang and the ILS procedures to ensure the safety and efficiency of civil aviation, said the joint statement.
Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and his Malaysian counterpart Saifuddin Abdullah said they had a “positive and constructive” meeting.
“Both sides reiterated their commitment to preserving the vital relationship between both countries and to improving bilateral ties, on the basis of equality and mutual respect,” said the joint statement.
The two ministers also agreed on the importance of keeping the situation on the ground calm to allow discussions to take place in a conducive atmosphere.
On maritime issues involving the port limits of Singapore and Malaysia, both ministers agreed to establish a working group to study and discuss legal and operational matters, in order to de-escalate the situation on the ground and provide a basis for further discussions and negotiations.
The working group will be headed by the Permanent Secretary of the Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Chee Wee Kiong and the Secretary-General of the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Muhammad Shahrul Ikram Yaakob.
The working group will report to the foreign ministers within two months, the statement said.
It added: "Both foreign ministers were pleased with the progress made at the meeting, and welcomed the positive steps that both sides had agreed on to move these matters forward in a calm and constructive manner."
COMMITMENT TO STRENGTHENING BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP
At a joint news conference, Dr Balakrishnan reiterated that the meeting with Mr Saifuddin was "very positive, very constructive and very necessary".
"I'm glad to be able to report that we have arrived at some agreements and we have also just as importantly reaffirmed our commitment to strengthening the vital relationship between Malaysia and Singapore, and also to improve bilateral ties on the basis of equality and mutual respect," said Dr Balakrishnan.
Mr Saifuddin shared similar sentiments, saying Singapore and Malaysia are "the closest neighbours".
"We have a long history of good relations. There is only one way to go forward - that is to be stronger in our ties and improve our relations," he added.
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat later said it was important for Singapore and Malaysia to find win-win solutions that benefit the people of both countries.
"As neighbours, Singapore and Malaysia have deep historical, economic, cultural and people-to-people ties," said Mr Heng in a Facebook post.
"It is important that we have a constructive and peaceful relationship and find win-win solutions that benefit the peoples of both countries," he added.
The maritime dispute was sparked by Malaysia's unilateral decision to extend the Johor Bahru port limits in October, and the subsequent intrusion of Malaysian government vessels in Singapore waters.
Singapore lodged a "strong protest" with the Malaysian government over the port limits which it said encroaches into Singapore's territorial waters off Tuas. It added in a media statement that Malaysia's actions are "a serious violation of Singapore’s sovereignty and international law".
Separately, Malaysia's transport minister Anthony Loke had said in parliament on Dec 4 that the government wanted to take back control of its "delegated airspace" over southern Johor, citing concerns over sovereignty and national interest.
Malaysia had at the same time objected to Singapore's publication of ILS procedures for Seletar Airport, saying it would restrict the construction of tall buildings at Johor's Pasir Gudang, to the north of Seletar Airport.
The ILS procedure refers to an assisted navigational aviation facility at the airport which provides precision vertical and horizontal guidance to flights descending and approaching the runway.
In response, Singapore had said it is not true that ILS procedures for the northerly approach into Seletar Airport amounted to a violation of Malaysia's sovereignty and international law as its neighbour had alleged.
Singapore's transport ministry had also reiterated that cross-border airspace management is not incompatible with sovereignty, pointing out that instrument flight procedures for some Malaysian airports also extend into the territories of neighbouring states.