PUTRAJAYA: The prime ministers of Singapore and Malaysia affirmed their commitment to a cooperative and forward-looking bilateral relationship during the ninth leaders’ retreat between both countries, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday (Apr 9).
Speaking at a joint press conference alongside his Malaysian counterpart, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Mr Lee noted that as close neighbours, Singapore and Malaysia must expect issues to arise from time to time.
“But provided we address them in a constructive spirit, we can manage the problems and work towards win-win outcomes," he said.
He also said that the relationship between both countries is rooted in long history, as well as strong family and business ties. “This remains unchanged with the new Malaysian government,” he added.
During the retreat, the two leaders also addressed current bilateral issues, including maritime boundaries and airspace.
PROGRESS MADE ON MARITIME ISSUES
On maritime boundaries, Mr Lee said both countries have made progress to deescalate the situation at sea, and avoid further incidents.
He outlined how the two foreign ministers have agreed to implement several measures, including suspending the extensions of the Johor Bahru Port Limits off Tanjung Piai and the Singapore Port Limits off Tuas, and ceasing to anchor government vessels in the area.
READ: MFA confirms 'no Malaysian government vessels' anchored in area previously covered by overlapping port limits
“With the implementation of the measures, we will commence negotiations on boundary delimitation in a month,” he said.
Malaysia had on Oct 25 gazetted an extension of its Johor Bahru port limits in a manner which Singapore said encroaches into its territorial waters off Tuas.
On Dec 6, Singapore extended its port limits off Tuas, and said it will not hesitate to take "firm actions" against the intrusion of Malaysian government vessels in its waters.
Singapore had also protested "provocative acts" by Malaysia in recent months, including a visit by Johor Chief Minister Osman Sapian to a Malaysian vessel parked in Singapore waters.
SINGAPORE “READY TO DISCUSS” AIR-TRAFFIC ARRANGEMENTS
On airspace issues, Mr Lee noted that Malaysia has suspended its permanent Restricted Area over Pasir Gudang indefinitely, while Singapore has withdrawn the Instrument Landing System procedures at Seletar Airport.
On this development, Mr Lee said this has cleared the way for Malaysia’s Firefly airline to start services to Seletar Airport.
READ: Singapore, Malaysia to develop GPS-based instrument approach procedures for Seletar Airport to replace ILS
Mr Lee also noted that Malaysia has stated its intention to review the existing arrangements for air traffic services provision over southern Peninsular Malaysia.
Commenting on this, Mr Lee said: “Singapore is ready to discuss this matter with Malaysia. Key considerations are the safety and efficiency of air traffic operations, and the needs and interests of both countries.”
He added that this was “a complex matter” that will involve consulting many stakeholders, including airlines and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
Civil aviation is growing rapidly for both countries. Kuala Lumpur International Airport and Changi are major regional airports, each serving more than 60 million passengers, he noted.
Singapore provides air traffic services over parts of southern peninsular Malaysia that is within the Kuala Lumpur Flight Information Region. This was an arrangement approved by ICAO in 1973.
In December, Malaysia said it wants to reclaim its "delegated airspace" in southern Johor, citing concerns over sovereignty and national interest.
The two prime ministers also discussed ongoing connectivity projects, including the Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link and the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR).
For the RTS Link, Mr Lee noted that Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke has told Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan that while Malaysia still supports such a link, it wishes to request to suspend the project for six months to re-assess options.
He said that Singapore understands Malaysia’s position and both attorneys-general have been tasked to work out a supplemental agreement quickly to give effect to the suspension, similar to the process for the HSR suspension in 2018.
READ: Airspace talks with Malaysia to factor in safety and efficiency of civil aviation, says PM Lee
Meanwhile for the HSR, Mr Lee said both countries still have about one year for the Suspension Agreement to run.
He said: “Singapore continues to see this as a good project that strengthens links between our economies and our peoples. But we understand why Malaysia needs time to review the cost and alternative options.”
Mr Lee added that Singapore looks forward to receiving Malaysia’s proposals early and working with them to find a way forward that works for both countries.
PM MAHATHIR TO ATTEND NDP
Mr Lee also thanked Dr Mahathir for “his warm hospitality” and extended an invitation for him and his wife Dr Siti Hasmah to visit Singapore on Aug 9 for the National Day Parade. The Malaysian leader has accepted the invitation.
Mr Lee said that Singapore is commemorating its bicentennial this year and there will be a special parade at the Padang.
When Singapore celebrated 150 years of modern Singapore’s founding in 1969, Abdul Razak Hussein, Malaysia’s second prime minister, attended the National Day celebrations.