SINGAPORE: Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan spoke to his Malaysian counterpart Saifuddin Abdullah on Wednesday (Dec 5) about Malaysia's purported extension of the Johor Bahru port limits, urging Malaysia to cease intrusions into Singapore territorial waters to avoid escalating tensions on the ground.
Speaking to Mr Saifuddin on the phone, Dr Balakrishnan noted that the limits "now extend beyond even the limits of Malaysia's territorial sea claim in the area, as set out in Malaysia's own 1979 map, which Singapore has never accepted", said Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in a press statement.
Changes to the port limits had been announced through Malaysia's Federal Government Gazette on Oct 25, 2018, in a document published by the Attorney General's Chambers.
On Tuesday, Singapore said it had lodged a "strong protest" over the move, requesting that Malaysia refrain from taking any further unilateral action and to amend the gazette notification "to reflect the sovereignty of Singapore over the waters in question".
Dr Balakrishnan said that despite Singapore's diplomatic protests, there had been a "series of provocative intrusions" by Malaysian government vessels into Singapore territorial waters off Tuas.
He stressed the "urgent need" for Malaysia to "cease these intrusions" to avoid escalating tensions on the ground.
"IN BOTH COUNTRIES' INTEREST TO ENSURE SAFETY"
In the phone call, Dr Balakrishnan also referred to discussions on airspace issues between Singapore's Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan and his Malaysian counterpart Anthony Loke, as well as Mr Loke's public comments on the issue.
Mr Loke had said in the Malaysian parliament on Tuesday that his government intended to reclaim the southern Johor airspace, which had been "delegated" to Singapore since 1974. Later that day, Mr Khaw said he noted the intention, but added that as the airspace was one of the most complex in the world, it "was not a straightforward decision to just change the status quo".
Minister Balakrishnan emphasised to Mr Saifuddin that Singapore respected Malaysia's sovereignty and that it was "in the interest of both countries to ensure the safety of civil aviation over our skies".
"Any proposal should ensure that the safety and efficiency of civilian air traffic was not compromised, and remained in accordance with ICAO standards, processes and procedures," MFA stated.
According to MFA, Dr Balakrishnan also said that the two countries "should continue to discuss these issues constructively" and emphasised the importance of maintaining a good bilateral relationship and compliance with international law.
Dr Balakrishnan has been on a two-day working visit to Japan, where he met his Japanese counterpart Taro Kono to discuss bilateral cooperation as well as key regional developments.