SINGAPORE: Malaysia's "sudden unilateral move" to extend its Johor Bahru port limits does not fit with the "collaborative spirit" between the two countries, but Singapore will deal with the issue firmly and calmly, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli on Friday (Dec 7).
His comments come a day after 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.
There have been 14 intrusions into Singapore's territorial waters off Tuas in the past two weeks, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan told reporters on Thursday.
The intrusions come after Malaysia extended its Johor Bahru port limits in October - a move that Singapore has called a "serious violation" of its sovereignty and international law.
"This sudden unilateral move threatens Singapore’s sovereignty and does not fit with our collaborative spirit," Mr Masagos said. "It also sends a bleak signal. What’s clear is that we will deal with this issue firmly and calmly. The people are united in this."
Mr Masagos, who spoke in Malay, added that leaders of Singapore and Malaysia both want positive relations.
"This is clear in the way we dealt with the recent HSR (high-speed rail) issue.
"I think the people also want us to look forward and forget our past fears. There will be much benefit should we work together sincerely and consistently," said Mr Masagos, who is also Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs.
He stressed, however, that Singapore will not hesitate to defend its sovereignty if it were threatened.
"We’ve been clear. We respect international law and all bilateral agreements between Singapore and Malaysia," said the minister. "If anyone violate these laws and our agreement, threatening our sovereignty, we will defend it firmly."
In a Facebook post on Friday, Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen underscored the severity of the vessel intrusions as well as Malaysia's extension of port limits.
"These are serious violations of Singapore's sovereignty," said Dr Ng as he called for the vessels to leave Singapore waters.
"Our security forces have acted with restraint despite continuing intrusions and provocations," he said. "Singaporeans are peace-loving, but I strongly caution violators to leave Singapore territorial waters."
Singapore said on Tuesday that it has lodged a "strong protest" with the Malaysian government over its move to extend the Johor Bahru port limits "in a manner which encroaches into Singapore's territorial waters off Tuas".
Singapore also wants Malaysia to amend a gazette notification through which the changes to the port limits were announced in October.