SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong kicks off a two-day visit to Putrajaya on Monday (Apr 8) to attend a Leaders’ Retreat hosted by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
“The annual Leaders’ Retreat is an important platform for prime ministers of both countries to discuss bilateral issues and explore new areas of cooperation,” said a press statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
Mr Lee will have a bilateral meeting with Dr Mahathir on Tuesday morning, said the statement. This will be followed by a delegation meeting involving the two leaders and their accompanying ministers as well as senior officials.
“We have much to discuss. Look forward to a fruitful meeting with PM Mahathir tomorrow,” Mr Lee said in a Facebook post on Monday.
Dr Mahathir and his wife, Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, will then host lunch for Mr and Mrs Lee as well as the Singapore delegation.
Mr Lee is accompanied by nine Cabinet ministers, including Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean, as well as Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan.
The Singapore delegation also includes Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran, Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong as well as Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli.
The 9th Singapore-Malaysia Leaders' Retreat will be the first one hosted by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, which came into power last May. The annual event was supposed to have taken place in November, but was postponed.
Last week, Dr Mahathir said that “unresolved” bilateral issues will be discussed in a “friendly manner” during the retreat.
In the lead up to the event, both sides announced on Saturday that Singapore has withdrawn the Instrument Landing System procedures for Seletar Airport while Malaysia has indefinitely suspended its permanent restricted area over Pasir Gudang.
Instead, both sides will now work together to develop GPS-based instrument approach procedures for Seletar Airport.
On Monday, both sides also said they have suspended their overlapping port limit claims, as part of measures to ease tensions in a maritime dispute.
WHAT TO EXPECT DURING THE RETREAT
Political analyst Mustafa Izzuddin highlighted that this was the first Leaders’ Retreat between Mr Lee and Dr Mahathir, and it could prove to be a “turning point” in bilateral relations provided Dr Mahathir considers the interests of both sides during the discussions.
“Much would depend on how reasonable Dr Mahathir is willing to be in the negotiations that take into account not only Malaysia's national interest but also Singapore's national interest in the spirit of keeping Malaysia-Singapore relations on an even keel,” said the fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.
“This Leaders' Retreat is important in the sense that it would pave the way or have a positive trickling down effect for bilateral negotiations downstream among ministerial officials and civil servants.”
This will be the third meeting between the two leaders since PH came to power. Last May, Mr Lee called on Dr Mahathir in Putrajaya. In November, Dr Mahathir made an official visit to Singapore, during which both sides reaffirmed the close bilateral relationship.
Dr Mustafa added that the announcements since the weekend were “timely and necessary”.
“In political and strategic terms as it engenders a positive and encouraging climate for diplomatic negotiations to take place during the upcoming Malaysia-Singapore Leaders' Retreat,” he said.
Professor James Chin, director of the Asia Institute Tasmania, told CNA that Malaysia is likely to raise issues such as the price of water, territorial boundaries and maybe even the need for a third bridge to improve connectivity between Singapore and Johor.
However, Dr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs said he does not expect many major announcements from the retreat.
“I don’t think there will be many ‘good news’ announcements ... coming out of this retreat. Rather, (they will) mostly reaffirm commitments to amicably settle their differences first by negotiations.”