Transcript of Reply by Minister of Foreign Affairs George Yeo to Question in Parliament on sand and land reclamation, 12 February 2007

Mr Charles Chong: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs (a) what impact does the mining of sand on the outer islands of Indonesia and Singapore's land reclamation works have on the maritime boundaries between Singapore and Indonesia; and (b) how will the maritime boundary between Singapore and Malaysia be affected by Singapore's land reclamation works.


Mr Speaker Sir,

As with Minister Mah Bow Tan, let me also begin by distinguishing sea sand from land sand.

Although various comments have been made by Indonesian politicians and journalists, it is not at all clear how the mining of sea sand in the seas off the outer islands of Indonesia could have an impact on the maritime boundary between our two countries. In any case, such mining is entirely within the power of Indonesian authorities to control. As far as Singapore is concerned, we have not imported sea sand for our reclamation works from Indonesia since its export ban in February 2003. As Minister Mah said earlier, we have been using sea sand from other sources to carry out our reclamation projects.

As for land sand, which we had continued to import from Indonesia till its recent ban, it is used for construction, not land reclamation. According to our contractors who imported the land sand from Indonesia, the sources of their Indonesian suppliers were from inland locations away from the border islands of Indonesia. It is therefore not possible for Indonesia's export of land sand to affect its maritime boundaries.

Our existing boundaries with Indonesia had been settled under the 1973 Agreement Stipulating the Territorial Sea Boundary Lines between Indonesia and the Republic of Singapore in the Strait of Singapore. With Malaysia, our existing boundaries were settled by the 1995 Agreement between the Government of Malaysia and the Government of the Republic of Singapore to Delimit Precisely the Territorial Waters Boundary in Accordance with the Straits Settlements and Johore Territorial Waters Agreement 1927. Our reclamation works, which are conducted within Singapore's territorial waters, cannot affect those two Agreements and the demarcated boundaries.

There are some waters at the two ends, near the tri-junctions which have not been demarcated, either bilaterally with Indonesia or Malaysia, or trilaterally with both countries. These will have to be demarcated through negotiations.

Supplementary Question 1

Mdm Ho Geok Choo: Sir, I would like to ask the Minister, what is his view on the politics of envy in this instance? Does he see the ban on sand arising more from the situation of "I see you Little Red Dot tak puas" rather than the border and environmental concerns? If that were so, would Singapore be revealing itself to be more measured in its pace so as to pacify our neighbours? I say this because our success and fast growth may be creating a lot of tensions with our neighbours, who feel the threats of challenges and stress. Therefore will a different tactic and approach work rather than one of offering to understand and help. Our neighbours could be feeling low, and the loss of face. [Speaker: Mdm Ho, no speeches please.] [con'td] when, you know, so often we talk about offering help. My question therefore is that, perhaps you know, we should slow down and I would like Minister's comments on these questions as well as a recent remark by our Prime Minister and I quote him: "Singapore is a small country, vulnerable to external forces, sometimes beyond our control. We have to get along with our neighbours. We have to work together." [Speaker: Is that your question?]

I would like Minister's views to the questions I have posed, whether there's a question of the politics of envy and whether we should change our approach in the way we deal with our neighbours, especially in the context of what Prime Minister has said.


Mr Speaker Sir,

It is not for us to comment on the domestic politics of countries in the region. But our policy - and it is a steadfast one - is to have good relations with them and to build those relations on the basis of mutual benefit.

Supplementary Question 2

Ms Irene Ng: Sir, it is clear that Singapore's import of sand has no effect on the environmental damage of Indonesia or maritime boundaries. Given that case, can I ask the Minister what is his interpretation of this sudden ban on land [sand] to Singapore. There are some quarters in Indonesia that have linked this to the negotiations on the Extradition Treaty that they are currently trying to get us to sign. Can I ask the Minister whether he thinks this is a pressure point that the Indonesia is trying to use on Singapore? And one last point: I find it difficult to agree with Honourable Member Ho Geok Choo that we should slow down our development to be at pace with our neighbours because we answer to Singaporeans. Can I ask the Minister whether he thinks that Singapore has been doing its part as a very responsible member of ASEAN to help our neighbours to "level up"? Thank you.


Mr Speaker Sir,

There was a recent article in the Jakarta Post on 3rd February, quoting Chief Executive of the Indonesian Maritime Security Coordinating Board, Vice-Admiral Djoko Sumaryano, as linking the land sand ban to the ongoing border talks and Extradition Treaty negotiations. Such a linkage, if true, would be unfortunate and counter-productive. Our border limitation talks are complicated enough, and, if there is an additional linkage, it will only make the talks more difficult. As for the Extradition Treaty, Prime Minister Lee and President Yudhoyono had already agreed at their meeting in Bali on 3 October 2005 that the Extradition Treaty and the Defence Cooperation Agreement should be linked together and negotiated in parallel, as one package. The talks have made good progress although there are still a few difficult issues to overcome. Singapore hopes that both Agreements, as a package, could be concluded early.

As to whether we should slow down the pace of development in order to make our relations with our neighbours more comfortable, I fully agree with Ms Irene Ng that we should never do that. We should do what is in the interests of Singapore. Of course, where we can, we should help our neighbours in their economic development and indeed we are. We have, for instance, a very special package to help the CMLV countries, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam and we have, over the years, programmes to assist Indonesia in its development. We have trained many of their officials. When they had the tsunami, we did not stint at all on our efforts to help them and in so many other instances, where we could, within our means, we extended a helping hand. And that has always been our approach - to help our neighbours because we believe that their prosperity is also good for us.

Supplementary Question 3

Mr Charles Chong: Sir, the Minister in his reply to my question mentioned that there are some areas in our border with Indonesia and Malaysia that are still being negotiated. Can the Minister tell us if land reclamation works is at all an issue in these negotiations?


Mr Speaker Sir,

We have always stated that our land reclamation works would not be a factor in these negotiations.

Supplementary Question 4

Dr Lily Neo: Thank you Mr Speaker. Supplementary Question on reclamation works. May I ask the Minister whether there is any basis on the claim that our reclamation works at Pulau Tekong and Pulau Ubin might have contributed to the severe floodings in Johor? Is this the same claim that Malaysia refereed to the International Tribunal and settled with a signed agreement on both sides in 2005. Have we kept to our part of the agreement? And how do we reassure our neighbour on this?

Mr Speaker Sir,

The day after those remarks were made by the Johor Menteri Besar, the Deputy Prime Minister Dato' Sri Najib immediately contradicted him and, indeed when we were having our bilateral discussions over the effects of our reclamation on the Malaysian side, the issue of the flooding of Malaysia had been extensively studied and found not to be an issue.

Supplementary Question 5

Ms Sylvia Lim: Sir, if I may turn back to the issue of our relations with Indonesia, I believe that we are aware of some wire reports over the years that one of the reasons why the Indonesian government is not too happy with us is that they suspect that there could be certain persons in Singapore, of Indonesian origin, whom they may be interested to pursue in their anti-corruption campaign. Either these persons are here or perhaps their monies are here. I wondered the Minister could comment on whether this is true to some extent and whether this is one of the things that is a sticking point in our relations with Indonesia.


When they are able to establish a case, and provided we could be helpful to them, we have always been. But a lot of these comments have been connected to their own domestic politics and really we do not want to be too involved in their domestic politics. One reason why the Extradition Treaty is not easy to negotiate is because if they make a case for someone to be extradited from Singapore, then of course the defence would be whether the proper procedures were observed in Indonesia. Which means that, inevitably, a judge in Singapore would have to examine the conduct of their police and their judges. So in the detailed negotiations of our Extradition Treaty with Indonesia, all these things would have to be taken into account because the last thing we want is for the Extradition Treaty to complicate further our bilateral relations with them.

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