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As Singapore undergoes leadership transition, it will keep finding ways to strengthen ties with Malaysia: Lawrence Wong

The relationship between the neighbouring countries will be even more important as both enter an emerging new global order, says Mr Lawrence Wong on his first official visit to Malaysia as Deputy Prime Minister. 

As Singapore undergoes leadership transition, it will keep finding ways to strengthen ties with Malaysia: Lawrence Wong

Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong (centre), with his wife Ms Loo Tze Lui on his right, meets Malaysian Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz and his spouse Johanna Raja Arshad (first from left) on Sep 4, 2022. (Photo: Malaysia's Ministry of Finance)

SINGAPORE: As Singapore goes about its leadership transition, it will continue to find ways to strengthen its relationship with Malaysia, said Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (Sep 6). 

Mr Wong was speaking at a doorstop interview with journalists in Kuala Lumpur, during his first official visit to Malaysia since being appointed as DPM in June.

This followed the April announcement of Mr Wong as leader of the ruling People's Action Party's fourth-generation team, paving the way for him to succeed Mr Lee Hsien Loong as Singapore's next Prime Minister.

Mr Wong said last month that no decision has been made on when he will take over the country's top job, but it could be before the next general election, which must be held no later than November 2025.

On Tuesday, he described Singapore and Malaysia as "closest neighbours" with "very close cooperation" and "a high level of interdependency across many areas”.

“It is also a relationship that is underpinned by close people-to-people and family ties,” said Mr Wong, noting that his own father had grown up in Ipoh, Perak. 

“We will continue to find ways to strengthen this relationship as we go about our leadership transition in Singapore, that’s something that I would certainly like to do.” 

For example, Singapore has been looking at ways to strengthen connectivity with Malaysia, said Mr Wong, who is also Finance Minister.

Most recently, the KTM train service has resumed, as well as ferry services between Desaru and Singapore's Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal.

The Singapore–Johor Bahru Rapid Transit System, or RTS Link project, will also enable better connectivity between Singapore and Johor, he added. 

“These are some ongoing projects, but we certainly look forward to new areas of cooperation as well,” said Mr Wong. 

Responding to a question about fresh proposals for the discontinued Singapore-KL High-Speed Rail (HSR) project, Mr Wong said his discussion on the matter with Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri on Monday was a short one, and the two “didn’t get into great details” about the project. 

“Whatever has been done is done, we’ve closed that chapter, we look forward. And if there is interest on the Malaysian side now to revive the HSR project, let us have a fresh proposal to look at and we certainly will be very open to any new proposals,” said Mr Wong on Tuesday. 

“We are awaiting more details and when we see specifics, we will look at the proposal in detail and we will consider it and we can then proceed to have further discussions thereafter.” 

The HSR project, which aimed to reduce travel time between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to about 90 minutes, was discontinued after multiple postponements at Malaysia's request. The agreement between the two countries eventually lapsed in December 2020.

Malaysia paid more than S$102 million in compensation to Singapore for the terminated project.

Mr Wong also spoke on Malaysia’s chicken exports to Singapore. 

Malaysia is “looking into it”, and considering “potentially at some stage when they are ready”, to resume their export of chicken to Singapore, he said. 

“No specific date has been given to me, but they are considering it, and they are looking at resuming exports soon. But in any case, within Singapore, I think we have already taken steps to diversify our imports for fresh chicken.” 

Singapore’s relationship with Malaysia will be even more important as both countries enter a new global environment with headwinds in the coming months, said Mr Wong. 

“We can anticipate issues with energy, food, economic slowdown, inflation, these are near term challenges. But more fundamentally, I think we also know that we are entering a new global order,” he added. 

“The golden age of globalisation that we all enjoyed in the past 30 years is probably over, and we are entering a new order, which will be characterised by greater geopolitical contestation and potentially more fragmentation in the global economy.” 

Countries like Singapore and Malaysia will continue to be pulled in different directions and there will be pressure to take sides, said Mr Wong. 

“Which is why it is vital for us to stand united and to stand together and to continue to strengthen our cooperation with one another.” 

Source: CNA/hw(jo)
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