Malaysia suggests reviving discussions on terminated HSR project, Singapore open to fresh proposals: PM Lee
SINGAPORE: Malaysia has suggested reviving discussions on the terminated Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR) project, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday (Nov 29) after meeting with his Malaysian counterpart Ismail Sabri Yaakob.
Mr Ismail Sabri is on his first official visit to Singapore as the vaccinated travel lanes between both countries were launched. The Malaysian prime minister met Mr Lee and was hosted to an official lunch at the Istana.
"The prime minister and I also discussed the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High-Speed Rail, and the prime minister suggested reviving discussions on the High-Speed Rail," Mr Lee said.
"I responded to the prime minister that Singapore and Malaysia had previously reached an agreement to terminate the HSR projects, and this has been amicably settled and closed. Nevertheless, Singapore is open to fresh proposals from Malaysia on the HSR project."
The HSR project, which aimed to reduce travel time between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to about 90 minutes, was discontinued after the agreement lapsed on Dec 31, 2020.
In September 2018, both sides agreed to postpone the construction of the HSR until end-May 2020, after then-Malaysia prime minister Mahathir Mohamad told reporters he had considered Malaysia's financial situation and how it would not benefit from the project.
Malaysia later requested a further seven-month extension to allow both sides to discuss and assess Malaysia’s proposed changes to the project.
But both sides could not agree on new terms, including Malaysia's request to remove an assets company that would run the railway, and the agreement lapsed. Malaysia paid more than S$102 million in compensation to Singapore for the terminated project.
Mr Lee said on Monday that the transport ministries from both countries will discuss the matter, and that Singapore looks forward to getting more details from Malaysia "so that we can study them and consider the matter again, starting from a clean slate".
Mr Lee said he discussed other areas of collaboration with Malaysia, including the Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link that is expected to start passenger services by the end of 2026.
In a joint statement, the transport ministries of both countries said they have taken another "major step" in the progress of the project, with the conclusion of the RTS Link Grantor Agreement last week.
"This agreement follows on from the Concession Agreement that was concluded on Jul 30, 2020, when the RTS Link project was successfully resumed, and stipulates the responsibilities of the two Grantors in carrying out their roles and obligations with respect to matters relating to the Concession Agreement," said the ministries.
Singapore also continues to support the development of Iskandar Malaysia, said Mr Lee.
"The 14th Joint Committee for Iskandar Malaysia will convene next month, and I hope that they will be able to give the project another further push."
The 14th meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia, scheduled for January 2019, was postponed after the countries were caught in a dispute over maritime borders.
The committee, which last met in 2017, was set up in 2007 to study how the two countries could work together in the south Johor economic zone of Iskandar. The committee seeks to improve tourism, transportation and industrial links between both countries.
Mr Lee said he and Mr Ismail Sabri also briefly touched on a range of other bilateral issues, some of which have "existed for some time".
"It's natural for such issues to exist between close neighbours who have extensive ties with one another," he said.
"I told the prime minister that Singapore will continue to approach these issues constructively, and we agreed that we would discuss them in more detail at a later time when we hold a retreat."
Mr Ismail Sabri said he and Mr Lee agreed on the need to resume existing bilateral mechanisms, including the 10th Leaders' Retreat that was postponed due to the pandemic.
"God willing, we will have our leaders' retreat in the first quarter of the next year and I look forward to coming back to Singapore," he said.
Mr Ismail Sabri said such meetings at the ministerial and official levels should resume "as soon as possible", as this helps ensure the countries' multi-faceted cooperation and "outstanding issues" are kept "on the right track with a positive momentum forward".
"Subsequently, PM Lee and I will discuss the progress in this bilateral mechanism at our leaders' retreat," he added.
Beyond that, Singapore and Malaysia also cooperate closely within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the broader region, Mr Lee said, adding that he and Mr Ismail Sabri had participated in the ASEAN-China Special Summit and 13th Asia-Europe Meeting Summit.
Mr Ismail Sabri said he and Mr Lee touched on the situation in Myanmar and agreed that it is crucial for ASEAN to continue playing a constructive role in facilitating a "durable and peaceful solution" in the interests of Myanmar and the larger ASEAN community.
Myanmar's junta has yet to make progress on an agreed roadmap to restore peace in the country, following a military coup that ended a decade of tentative democracy and prompted outrage at home and abroad. ASEAN excluded Myanmar from a recent summit.
"We share the same view that it is crucial for Myanmar to cooperate in the implementation of the five-point consensus, and the necessity to preserve the credibility and integrity of ASEAN," Mr Ismail Sabri said on Monday.
"We look forward to the return of democracy in Myanmar and the participation of Myanmar at the highest level at future summits."