Singapore will take ‘appropriate measures’ to safeguard its interest: Vivian Balakrishnan

Singapore will take ‘appropriate measures’ to safeguard its interest: Vivian Balakrishnan

Singapore Malaysia border Causeway
An aerial view taken from a helicopter shows Singapore (left) and Malaysia's southern state of Johor on Feb 2, 2016. (Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

SINGAPORE: In resolving bilateral issues, Singapore will always take appropriate measures to safeguard its national interest, Minister of Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan said in Parliament on Monday (Jan 14). 

Dr Balakrishnan was responding to questions from MPs following his ministerial statement on Singapore-Malaysia bilateral issues.  

In response to a question from Member of Parliament (MP) Vikram Nair on what further action Singapore could take if there are further intrusions into its waters and airspace from Malaysia, Dr Balakrishan said: “We will always take appropriate measures to safeguard our interest and any country dealing with Singapore must not assume that it is cost-free to embark on any adventures or antics against us. There will be consequences.

“I hope members appreciate this fine line that I am trying to follow. To be resolute, but to be calm. To quietly but clearly protect our interest. It doesn't mean we do not have sharp elbows. If sometimes we have to do it, we will do so.”

Dr Balakrishnan cited how Singapore “had to respond” after Johor Chief Minister Osman Sapian made an unauthorised visit to Malaysian vessel Pedoman in Singapore waters last week. Osman's actions prompted Singapore to postpone talks days before the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) for Iskandar Malaysia, which was scheduled for Monday. 

“We had to take action, so that's why we had to postpone the meeting. My point is do not take Singapore’s consistency and predictability for granted,” he said. 

MP for Marsling-Yew Tee GRC Alex Yam also asked Dr Balakrishnan if there would be a point when Singapore may have to “be a bit of a bad cop” and make Malaysia understand that any further provocation will be met with an equal reaction.

Dr Balakrishnan said that despite Singapore’s attempts to be constructive and to keep the avenue open for a negotiated settlement, Malaysia must not believe it can take actions without consequences.

“For every action you take there are consequences. We will do so quietly but effectively. It’s the usual Singaporean way,” he said.

READ: Singapore, Malaysia maritime dispute: A timeline

"Red lines are not something you draw lightly, and not something which you announce publicly without having carefully thought through all the consequences and without communicating those considerations clearly and unambiguously to the person you are negotiating with on the other side," Dr Balakrishnan said. 

He also expressed hope that Singaporeans understand that some of these actions are done quietly behind the scenes, as he does not believe in “megaphone diplomacy”.  

"NEVER COMPROMISE NATIONAL INTEREST": DR BALAKRISHNAN 

Workers’ Party Secretary-General and MP for Aljunied GRC Pritam Singh asked Dr Balakrishnan if he thought the Malaysian government was sincere in resolving the various bilateral issues between the two countries.

Dr Balakrishnan replied that he found the two leaders he has negotiated with – foreign affairs minister Saifuddin Abdullah and economics affairs minister Azmin Ali – to be sincere, constructive and helpful.

He also expressed hope that the two leaders reflect the larger body of opinion within Malaysia, as they understand that the long-term interest of both countries is secured by working together, resolving differences and expanding areas of collaboration.

READ: Singapore, Malaysia airspace dispute: What we know and timeline

Dr Balakrishnan added that he finds it useful to separate national interest from personal ties with his counterparts when dealing with foreign policy.

“Friendship between countries is to advance national interests. You never compromise national interest in order to have better relations. It’s a discipline I always maintain with all my relations with my counterparts, and I do my best to ensure I’m never the source of the problem,” he said.

WATER AGREEMENT IS 'SACROSANCT' 

In response to a question from MP Liang Eng Hwa, Dr Balakrishnan stressed that the 1962 water agreement between Malaysia and Singapore is sacrosanct, as it remains “one of the key appendices” to Singapore’s declaration of independence.

“That’s why it is sacrosanct. But even beyond independence, it is a foundational principle of Singapore's operating system, that we fully honour all agreements that we enter into,” he said.

Dr Balakrishnan also pointed out that Singapore has gone above and beyond the agreement, by for instance providing Malaysia with 16 million gallons of treated water daily, more than the 5 million gallons stipulated in the agreement.

“We do not do it because of an imposition from the water agreement, we do it out of goodwill, and … we hope this goodwill will be reciprocated.” 

Source: CNA/am(aj)

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