Momentum of Malaysia’s relationship with Singapore ‘very positive’: Economic Minister Azmin Ali
SINGAPORE: The momentum of Malaysia's relationship with Singapore is very positive, said Malaysian Minister for Economic Affairs Mohamed Azmin Ali on Wednesday (Jan 16), after meeting Singapore ministers to discuss bilateral issues over the weekend.
Mr Azmin's comment also follows Singapore's decision to postpone joint ministerial committee talks on Iskandar after Johor Chief Minister Osman Sapian made an "unauthorised visit" to Malaysian vessel Pedoman, which was in Singapore waters.
READ: An open, candid talk on issues: Dr Balakrishnan on meeting with Malaysia Economic Affairs Minister
Speaking to Channel NewsAsia, Mr Azmin said: "I must say the meeting was very productive, very good and the momentum of our relationship is very positive."
Mr Azmin noted that there were "issues that we have to deal with", but he did not want "a particular statement by any side" to derail the main objective of both governments.
"We want to ensure that Singapore and Malaysia will continue to enjoy (a) very close working relationship because we want to ensure that this is the right time for us to enhance our cooperation especially in this particular region," he added.
READ: Singapore postpones joint ministerial committee talks on Iskandar after Johor chief minister’s intrusion into its territorial waters
BILATERAL RELATIONS 'REMAIN GOOD': MALAYSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER
Separately, Malaysia's Foreign Affairs Minister Saifuddin Abdullah also said on Wednesday that bilateral relations remain good despite the need for further discussions on several matters.
“Our relations with Singapore remain good. There are some issues but we are talking to each other, and that is very important.
“Most importantly, the discussions are going on. I am confident the discussions are moving in the right direction,” said Mr Saifuddin.
Mr Saifuddin said that besides him, four key people would be holding discussions on specific topics and issues with their Singapore counterparts.
They include Mr Azmin, Transport Minister Anthony Loke, Attorney-General Tommy Thomas and Foreign Ministry secretary-general Muhammad Shahrul Ikram Yaakob.
Mr Saifuddin added that both countries would be steadfast in their negotiations.
“We have always safeguarded our sovereignty and our independence. We just have to continue talking to our Singapore counterparts,” he said.
Despite the postponement of the joint ministerial committee talks, Mr Saifuddin said that Mr Azmin had carried on with discussions on other bilateral issues with Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.
“We are moving forward,” he said.
READ: Johor Chief Minister’s 'unauthorised visit' to Pedoman vessel was 'provocative act’: Singapore MFA
On Sunday, Dr Balakrishnan said he had "an open and candid discussion" with Mr Azmin.
"We reaffirmed that there are far more opportunities for Malaysia and Singapore to work together, especially at this time of global economic transformation," Dr Balakrishnan had said in a Facebook post.
The bilateral meeting came amid an airspace and maritime dispute between Singapore and Malaysia.
Malaysian government vessels have made repeated incursions into Singapore territorial waters in recent months, after Malaysia extended the Johor Bahru port limits in October, encroaching into Singapore territorial waters off Tuas.
Singapore has protested the port limit extension and the movements of the vessels. Singapore's Transport Ministry also extended Singapore's port limits off Tuas on Dec 6 in response.
On Jan 8, both countries agreed to establish a working group to study and discuss legal and operational matters relating to the maritime dispute, in order to provide a basis for further discussions and negotiations.
However the next day, Johor's chief minister was seen making "an unauthorised visit" to the Pedoman, in "a provocative act" that went against the spirit of the agreement by both countries to resolve bilateral issues in a calm and constructive manner, said Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
On Monday, Dr Balakrishnan said in a ministerial statement in Parliament that both sides must act in “good faith” to overcome bilateral issues.
Mr Osman's "publicised visit" undermined the goodwill and trust necessary for further cooperation between the two countries, and "made it untenable" for Singapore and Malaysia to proceed with the joint ministerial committee talks for Iskandar Malaysia, Dr Balakrishnan added.
“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,” he said when responding to a question on what further action Singapore could take if there are further intrusions.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen also said in Parliament on Tuesday that while Singapore's security agencies have the capability to compel intruding Malaysian government vessels to leave, they have been ordered for the time being to "exercise restraint and avoid escalating tensions".