SINGAPORE: In his first comments on the maritime dispute between Singapore and Malaysia, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said that intrusions by Malaysian vessels into Singapore territorial waters "are a violation of Singapore's sovereignty and international law".
"This is a serious matter of national interest," wrote Mr Heng in a Facebook post on Sunday (Dec 9).
Singapore "will not hesitate" to take firm action to protect its sovereignty and territory, said Mr Heng. He urged Malaysia to "cease these intrusions" to avoid escalating tensions.
In his post Mr Heng - who is widely seen as the frontrunner to be Singapore's next prime minister following his recent appointment as the People's Action Party first assistant secretary-general - expressed hope that both countries discuss the issues constructively.
"Malaysia is our closest neighbour," said Mr Heng. "We have close people-to-people ties. Singapore seeks close cooperation with Malaysia."
Added the minister: "I hope that Singapore and Malaysia discuss issues constructively and peacefully, in compliance with international law. This will benefit peoples of both countries.
"I trust Singaporeans will remain calm and united at a time like this."
His remarks come the day after Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing called for all parties to "revert to the pre-Oct 25 status quo", warning that the risk of escalation "cannot be underestimated".
Singapore said on Friday that it does not agree with Malaysia’s proposal for both countries to "cease and desist" from sending assets into what Malaysia called a "disputed area".
There have been 14 intrusions by Malaysian government vessels in Singapore territorial waters in the last two weeks, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said at a media briefing last Thursday.
These intrusions came after Malaysia extended its Johor port limits on Oct 25, encroaching into Singapore waters off Tuas.
On Thursday, Singapore announced it had extended its port limits off Tuas in view of the recent "provocative developments" and said it will not hesitate to take firm action against intrusions by Malaysian government vessels in its waters.