Remarks In Parliament By Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo On The Settlement Agreement Between Singapore And Malaysia On Land Reclamation, 16 May 2005

16 May 2005

16/05/2005 - Remarks In Parliament By Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo On The Settlement Agreement Between Singapore And Malaysia On Land Reclamation, 16 May 2005

Question by Dr Wang Kai Yuen, MP: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to give an update on the considerations leading to the recent agreement between Malaysia and Singapore on the land reclamation around Pulau Tekong


1 Mr Speaker Sir, Members would recall that Malaysia initiated international arbitration against Singapore on 4 July 2003, under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), because of our land reclamation works. Malaysia then applied for provisional measures to the International Tribunal for the Law of Sea (ITLOS) on 5 September 2003. On 8 October, ITLOS rejected Malaysia's request. Instead, it ordered the two Governments to appoint a group of independent experts to carry out a joint study of Singapore's land reclamation works, to be completed within a year.

2 In the months that followed the ITLOS Order, the land reclamation issue comprised two parallel processes. On one track, Singapore and Malaysia jointly implemented the Order by appointing a group of four experts to carry out the joint study. On the other track, Singapore and Malaysia were parties to the arbitration case. Since the second track depended on the outcome of the first track, the arbitration was suspended by mutual agreement pending the completion of the joint study.

3 The Settlement Agreement that was signed on 26 April this year represents a full and definitive resolution of both processes. Malaysia has agreed to terminate its arbitration case against Singapore. Both sides are in the process of applying to the Tribunal for a final Award based on the terms of the Agreement signed.

Road to settlement

4 There were several considerations that brought about this positive outcome. But before I go into them, I would like to recapitulate the key facts of the case. 

5 The joint study prescribed by ITLOS was carried out by an independent group of experts, which comprised four professors of coastal engineering - two appointed by each side. The Group of Experts was assisted by an independent consultant - DHI Water & Environment - jointly appointed by Malaysia and Singapore. 

6 Malaysia had claimed that Singapore's reclamation was "causing and has the potential to cause serious and irreversible damage to the marine environment". The Group of Experts' task was to determine what adverse impacts had or would occur.

7 The Group of Experts submitted its Report to both Governments on 5 November. We have made the Report available on the MFA and MND websites. 

8 It is important to understand that the Group of Experts had carefully studied all of Malaysia's allegations of harm. The experts were professional and thorough in their scrutiny of the possible impacts from our reclamation works. 

9 At the end of the study, the Group of Experts unanimously found "no major impacts" arising from our reclamation works. All four experts concurred on this very significant finding.

10 The Group of Experts found that, from a total of 57 impacts arising from our reclamation works, 40 were classified as "slight", meaning that while they could be detected in mathematical models, they are unlikely to be detectable in the field. The remaining 17 of these impacts were classified in the "minor" to "moderate" range. The Group of Experts made seven recommendations to alleviate the identified impacts. All their recommendations were accepted by Malaysia and Singapore, and formed the basis for bilateral negotiations to find a resolution. After three rounds of negotiations, Malaysia and Singapore signed a full and final settlement of the case on 26 April this year.

Considerations for settlement

11 The considerations that led to the settlement are these:

  • The main factor is that the expert study, which both countries had commissioned, had reached the unanimous conclusion that Singapore's reclamation works would cause no major impact to Malaysia. The minor and moderate impacts identified by the experts could be mitigated and both sides were prepared to implement these expert recommendations. Therefore, there was no necessity to pursue the matter further.
  • There had also been a shift in attitudes on both sides. This dispute arose in an earlier phase when bilateral relations were rather less amicable. 
  • The subsequent improvement in bilateral relations over the course of the joint study, and the emphasis both sides placed on increasing win-win bilateral cooperation gave impetus to the resolution of the reclamation issue. 
  • As far as Singapore was concerned, we had no difficulty accepting the recommendations in order to settle the dispute. The key recommendation, which was a change to the reclamation profile at the south-eastern part of Pulau Tekong, concerned the detailed design of an area where we have yet to finalise the detailed design. As for the amounts of money to be paid for remedial works and compensation, we took into account the fact that they were very small compared with what both sides would have to incur if they were to go through with the full arbitration process.
  • These factors collectively enabled both sides to settle the case in a spirit of goodwill and mutual benefit.


12 Looking back, I would like to highlight two hallmarks of the joint study and settlement negotiations. One, is the involvement of an objective third party - ITLOS, the Group of Experts and the Arbitral Tribunal - which made possible an impartial and objective assessment of the facts of the case and the merits of the competing arguments. Two, the warmth and civility between the officials, experts and staff involved in this issue at all levels which contributed towards a happy ending. 

13 As I said at the signing ceremony, the manner in which this dispute has been settled gives us confidence that we can resolve our other bilateral disputes in a similar way. We have demonstrated in this case, and in the Pedra Branca case, that where there is an impasse, rather than let our bilateral relations be held hostage to the dispute, we are prepared to have the matter referred to third party adjudication or arbitration. As good neighbours, we can overcome such disputes on the basis of objectivity, mutual benefit and mutual respect. 

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