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Transcript of Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan's Ministerial Statement on Singapore-Malaysia Relations and Supplementary Questions and Answers during Parliament Sitting on 14 January 2019

14 January 2019

Introduction

1 Mr Speaker, Members of the House have posed several questions on Singapore-Malaysia relations. 


2 Let me start by sharing with the House and fellow Singaporeans the approach that we have taken in our relations with Malaysia under the Pakatan Harapan government. I had touched on this briefly in July last year but I think it is worth restating some of these points. 


3 Since Pakatan Harapan’s victory in the Malaysian general election in May 2018, Singapore has consistently expressed our hope for good and mutually beneficial relations with the new Malaysian government. We want to continue working closely with Malaysia, at both the federal and the state levels. We do so on the basis of equality and mutual respect. And this means working through any differences and outstanding issues amicably, constructively, and in accordance with international law and international norms. We believe both countries need to deepen our strategic trust and develop new areas of cooperation. A constructive and positive working relationship with our closest neighbour is also important for the region, and ASEAN in particular, where Singapore and Malaysia have many shared interests. 


4 So last August, when Malaysia sought Singapore’s agreement to defer the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail Project up to 31 May 2020, we agreed to do so, and we concluded a formal agreement with Malaysia to achieve this deferment. We agreed in the spirit of good neighbourliness, and hoped that this would set the tone for a positive and fruitful relationship with Malaysia’s new government. 


5 Since then, we have maintained this cooperative approach with several high-level bilateral visits and exchanges. Prime Minister Lee hosted PM Mahathir for an official visit to Singapore in November last year, in conjunction with the 33rd ASEAN Summit. During the meeting between the two Prime Ministers, they acknowledged that there would always be elements of both competition and cooperation, but both of them saw a bright future for Malaysia and Singapore. 


6 In any close relationship with complex historical legacies, problems will arise from time to time. This is to be expected between such close neighbours. The only question is how we approach these problems. In the past couple of months, two sets of difficult issues have flared up between Singapore and Malaysia. These include first, the maritime issues surrounding Malaysia’s purported extension of the Johor Bahru Port Limits, and second, airspace issues arising from Malaysia’s objections to the new Instrument Landing System (ILS) procedures for Seletar Airport, and its sudden promulgation of a permanent Restricted Area over Pasir Gudang, that disrupted normal operations at Seletar Airport which in fact have been conducted safely and efficiently for many decades. Both of these sets of sudden actions upset the status quo that has been in place for many years. These actions did not bode well for our bilateral relationship. They created the risk of a dangerous downward spiral of measures and counter-measures. They were serious enough that Prime Minister Lee felt it was necessary to send Deputy Prime Minister Teo and Minister Heng as special envoys to call on Prime Minister Mahathir on New Year’s Eve, to convey a serious message from Prime Minister Lee expressing his grave concerns.


7 Arising from Prime Minister Lee’s communication with Prime Minister Mahathir, I met Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah last week to discuss these outstanding issues. We agreed on measures to help keep the situation on the ground calm in order to allow discussions to take place in a more conducive atmosphere. 


8 There has been strong public interest in these matters. So today I would like to set out the facts of each issue and highlight the steps that both countries have taken to find a constructive way forward. 


Johor Bahru Port Limits 

9  Let me first deal with the Johor Bahru Port Limits. With your permission, Mr Speaker, may I display some slides on the screen. Thank you. On 25 October 2018, Malaysia unilaterally extended the Johor Bahru Port Limits into Singapore Territorial Waters off Tuas. Members of the House, may I refer you to this map which is displayed, which reflects Malaysia’s unilateral extension to the hatched area. The waters in this area are tight, less than 24 nautical miles wide. This purported extension goes beyond even Malaysia’s own territorial sea claims according to Malaysia’s own 1979 map, which Singapore has consistently rejected. The inescapable conclusion is that the new Johor Bahru Port Limits transgress into what are indisputably Singapore Territorial Waters. Singapore has long exercised sovereignty and patrolled these waters without any protest from Malaysia. However, since late November 2018, Malaysian government vessels started intruding into these Singapore Territorial Waters. We have protested the purported extension and these intrusions. We have also increased our security presence in the area in order to safeguard our waters and sovereignty. I am sure Members of this House would join me in commending our security agencies who have been acting professionally, responsibly, and with restraint in order to minimise the risks of untoward incidents at sea. In response to Malaysia’s provocative actions, on 6 December 2018 we extended Singapore’s own port limits off Tuas. Our extension was done in accordance with international law, and remained well within Singapore Territorial Waters. 


10 On 10 December 2018, the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a press statement committing to “take all effective measures to de-escalate the situation on the ground”. Despite this statement, daily intrusions by Malaysian government vessels into our territorial waters have continued. These intrusions do not help Malaysia’s legal case. All they do is raise tensions and endanger navigational safety in the area. There is a need to calm the situation at sea.  


11 It was in this context that I met Minister Saifuddin on 8 January 2019. Members would have read the Joint Press Statement that we issued after our meeting. In summary, we agreed to establish a working group, headed by the Permanent Secretary of Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mr Chee Wee Kiong, and the Secretary General of the Malaysian Foreign Ministry Mr Muhammad Shahrul Ikram Yaakob. This working group will discuss both the legal and operational matters in order to de-escalate the situation in the waters off Tuas and they are to report to both Minister Saifuddin and me within the next two months. 


12 Singapore believes that maritime boundary delimitation is best resolved through negotiations, to reach an amicable settlement acceptable to all parties. If negotiations are unsuccessful, Singapore is prepared to settle such disputes by recourse to an appropriate international dispute settlement procedure. However, the dispute settlement should be on terms that are mutually agreed to by both parties and it is for this reason that Singapore filed a declaration under Article 298(1)(a) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). We filed this declaration on 12 December 2018. This declaration means that other States Parties to UNCLOS cannot unilaterally commence third party arbitration or adjudication against Singapore in respect of maritime boundary disputes. Singapore likewise cannot unilaterally commence third-party arbitration or adjudication against other UNCLOS States Parties for such disputes. It has to be by mutual agreement: both sides have to agree to the terms of third-party arbitration or adjudication in the event that bilateral negotiations are unsuccessful. 


13 Singapore remains committed to finding an amicable resolution through dialogue with our Malaysian partners, and this is what the working group led by the two Foreign Ministries will try to achieve. 


Airspace

14 Next, airspace. On airspace, there have actually been two developments. First, the new ILS for Seletar Airport. Put simply, an ILS is an aid for pilots to land safely at an airport during bad weather or when there are low visibility conditions. Seletar Airport actually meets the relevant requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) on airport design and operations. Planes have been safely flying in and out of Seletar Airport for decades, using the same flight routes. But we did not previously have an ILS. We now installed the ILS at Seletar Airport at the request of Firefly, a subsidiary of Malaysian Airlines. Firefly had agreed to move its operations to Seletar Airport by 1 December 2018. But Firefly informed the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) that the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM) required all Malaysian carriers to only operate to airports with an instrument approach. Ironically, CAAS was actually trying to facilitate Firefly’s operations at Seletar by installing the ILS, the same ILS which Malaysia has now objected to. 


15 CAAS sought early consultation with CAAM on the implementation of the ILS procedures at Seletar. CAAS formally approached CAAM in December 2017, but received no response for almost a year. CAAM only replied in November 2018, objecting for the first time to the proposed ILS procedures, and citing alleged consequences on the future development of Pasir Gudang. Despite this delay, CAAS addressed all their concerns.


16 It is important to note that the ILS uses exactly the same flight path that aircraft landing at Seletar have used all along for visual flights. Flight procedures such as those for the Seletar ILS are a basic element of civil aviation, which inform pilots on what they need to do in order to land or take off safely. There have been claims that the ILS flight path will more strictly restrict the height of buildings below it. This is untrue. The ILS imposes no additional require¬ments or limitations preventing Malaysia from developing tall buildings in Pasir Gudang, or operating tall ships in Pasir Gudang Port. There were allegations that Pasir Gudang will not be able to have buildings higher than five stories because of the ILS. But if Members drive cross the Causeway and drive around Pasir Gudang, you will see that there are in fact already structures that are as tall as 105 metres, and this by the way is taller than many HDB blocks. You can see from this satellite photograph, which I want to emphasise was obtained from open sources, that there are indeed existing high rise developments in the Pasir Gudang area. So the ILS has not and will not prevent the building of tall structures as alleged by Malaysia. And we have consistently stated that if Malaysia has any new plans for new developments, we are prepared to discuss and to adjust the ILS procedures if necessary. Ultimately, the purpose of the ILS procedures is to improve safety and to facilitate flights, and in this case especially for Malaysia’s own Firefly, which services many smaller Malaysian airports. 


17 CAAS met CAAM on 29 November 2018 to address their concerns. Following this meeting, CAAS published the ILS procedures for Seletar Airport on 1 December 2018. This was done in accordance with Singapore’s responsibilities under the relevant ICAO requirements. So, it published the ILS procedures in accordance with our responsibilities under the relevant ICAO requirement as well as the bilateral arrangements between Singapore and Malaysia. And to give the aviation community time to prepare for the ILS, it set the effective date for the implementation of the ILS as 3 January 2019, a timeline which is entirely in line with international norms. 


18 During this period, on 12 December 2018, CAAM issued a Notice to Airmen, or NOTAM. And this NOTAM unilaterally declared the airspace over Pasir Gudang as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) operation area from 13 to 28 December 2018. This NOTAM was subsequently cancelled on 20 December 2018.


19 But subsequently, on Christmas Day, 25 December 2018, CAAM issued another NOTAM, this time declaring a permanent Restricted Area over Pasir Gudang between 2,000 feet and 5,000 feet altitude, for “military activities” and that this Restricted Area would take effect from 2 January 2019. This Restricted Area would force flights operating to and from Seletar Airport to spiral up and down close to the airport in order to traverse above the Restricted Area at 6,000 feet. Malaysia’s action contravened established ICAO procedures. All over the world, and this is a point worth emphasising, aviation is by nature transboundary. CAAS, as the air traffic services provider for the area, was neither informed nor consulted even though these actions affected current civil aviation operations out of Seletar Airport. It cut through an established international aviation route, and it affected flight efficiency and safety. 


20 Malaysia’s declaration of a permanent Restricted Area escalated what was initially a matter concerning ILS procedures, which is a norm for many airports around the world, into a much more serious issue affecting all flights operating at Seletar Airport from the North. This was not helpful for commercial aviation in the area, and furthermore damaged the overall tenor of our bilateral relationship.


21 At our meeting last week, Minister Saifuddin and I agreed that Singapore would suspend the implementation of the ILS procedures at Seletar Airport, and Malaysia would also suspend the permanent Restricted Area, for a period of one month in the first instance. This mutual suspension went into effect simultaneously at midnight on 9 January 2019 and this has allowed normal operations to resume at Seletar Airport, with aircraft able to fly their normal established flight paths over Pasir Gudang in and out of Seletar. Unfortunately, Malaysia’s Firefly will still be unable to start operating at Seletar due to its own Malaysian regulator’s requirement. We also agreed that the Transport Ministers from both countries should meet soon for discussions on these measures and to resolve the issues. The Transport Ministers, I believe, have agreed to meet later this month.


22 Mr Speaker, I strongly believe that both countries share a common interest in safe and efficient international civil aviation operations. After all, these have brought great economic benefits and tourism to both countries and indeed to our region. As such, I look forward to the resolution of these issues in an amicable fashion. 


Other issues

23 There are other issues that we have to deal with. Singapore will do our best to discuss all outstanding bilateral issues with Malaysia in a calm, reasonable, and focused manner. This approach extends to other issues beyond the Johor Bahru Port Limits and the Seletar ILS procedures. For example, Malaysia had earlier expressed their intention to review the 1974 Operational Letter of Agreement on airspace arrangements in southern Johor, and we had responded that we would review their proposal when we received it. Such discussions on air navigation arrangements involve consultations with international stakeholders, and cannot be done overnight. In the meantime, in the interest of civil aviation safety, air traffic operations must continue according to the current arrangements, and in accordance with ICAO requirements.


24 Another matter that Malaysia has raised is the price of raw water sold to Singapore under the 1962 Water Agreement. Prime Minister Mahathir raised this issue with Prime Minister Lee when they met last November. Both Prime Ministers agreed that the two respective Attorneys-General would meet for discussions to better understand each other’s positions on whether Malaysia still had the right to review the price of water under the 1962 Water Agreement. The Attorneys-General subsequently met in December 2018. Unfortunately, their discussions were overshadowed by the new issues that had arisen over the Johor Bahru Port Limits and the Seletar ILS procedures. But the two Attorneys-General will meet again to continue their discussions.


Latest Developments

25 Let me be very frank and let me emphasise that I do not expect a quick or smooth resolution to all these issues. An example - Singapore was scheduled to host a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) for Iskandar Malaysia this morning. The meeting was to be chaired by Minister Lawrence Wong and Malaysian Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali. This meeting would have involved Singapore and Malaysian ministers and officials, as well as Johor officials, including the Menteri Besar Osman Sapian. But most regrettably, the Menteri Besar staged a publicised visit to the Malaysian Marine Department (MMD) vessel anchored in Singapore Territorial Waters off Tuas on 9 January 2019. 


26 This intrusion by the Johor Menteri Besar went against the spirit of the agreement between Foreign Minister Saifuddin and me just the day before. It undermined the goodwill and trust that is necessary for further cooperation between the two countries, and especially cooperation involving Johor. Therefore, it made it untenable for us to proceed with the JMC meeting this morning. 


27 Singapore formally protested the intrusion via a TPN, a diplomatic note, to Malaysia, and we proposed to postpone the meeting to a later date. Malaysia agreed. I also informed both Minister Saifuddin and Minister Azmin of this postponement. And I should add that my discussions with both Ministers, both before and after the Johor Menteri Besar’s actions, have been amicable and constructive, and we have focused on trying to resolve issues and not to wind things up. Minister Azmin met me yesterday. This morning he also met Minister Khaw Boon Wan and Minister Lawrence Wong to discuss several bilateral projects which he is in charge of. 


28 Mr Speaker, despite these current difficulties, Singapore still hopes to work with Malaysia for better relations, and for closer cooperation that will benefit the people, the citizens of both sides. But both sides must act in good faith, in compliance with international law and norms, and honour existing agreements. 


Conclusion

29 Mr Speaker, foreign policy begins at home. The strength of Singapore’s diplomacy depends on domestic unity and resilience, and the fact that we cannot be intimidated or bought. This is the foundation for our diplomacy even as we seek good relations with all our friends and neighbours within a rules-based international order. This is why Total Defence and our investment in the SAF are so important. Resilience includes improving our water supply infrastructure, namely NEWater and desalinated water, strengthening our food security by diversifying our food sources, and ensuring that we have a strong, diversified labour market. As a small state with limited resources, the quest for security and resilience has been a constant, relentless imperative for us since independence. It is not something that we look at only in times of unease. I am confident that we can continue to rely on strong bi-partisan support from this House, and the unity of purpose amongst all Singaporeans, as we strive to ensure that Singapore’s independence, territorial sovereignty, safety, security, and prosperity is secured for this generation and those to come. 


30 Thank you Mr Speaker. 

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Supplementary Questions and Answers

Question 1

MP Lee Bee Wah: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Sir, I have one clarification. The flight path for Seletar airbase is the same whether with ILS or without ILS. But from what we heard from the Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke, he kept saying that it would prevent the development of Pasir Gudang, especially the tall buildings. So I’d like to ask whether the Minister Anthony Loke has different calculations or miscalculated? Or is he, as what my residents put it, “frying roti prata”? Perhaps my favourite Minister for Transport, Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who is meeting with him, will seek a clarification on this. 

Minister: I thank the Member for her usual colourful allusions. What I will state is that Minister Khaw and Minister Loke are due to meet, hopefully by the end of this month. I do not want to engage in speculation as to the basis for his calculations and assumptions. I think it is best that both sides meet, set out the respective concerns and find a constructive way forward. 

Question 2

MP Christopher de Souza: Sir, Singaporeans consider the recent act by the Johor Chief Minister as an affront to Singapore’s sovereign rights. Ultimately, we have to look at these emotive issues through coldly calculated lenses by taking deliberate steps to enhance Singapore’s interests and our resolve to take such steps should not be underestimated. One solution is third-party arbitration. Of course, there are other routes. My question for the Minister is what positive actions and active steps can Singaporeans do to protect and preserve our sovereign rights?

Minister: Well, first of all, our current actions are designed precisely to protect and assert our sovereignty and sovereign rights. The second point is that we do need more bilateral consultations. We do need negotiations to resolve these issues. I believe these issues are solvable, but it needs to be a frank, open, candid, and sincere exchange of views. As for Singaporeans, I mentioned just now that foreign policy begins at home, the unity of purpose, the calm way in which Singaporeans have responded to this. Calmness does not mean passivity. But actually both countries, and I think especially the businessmen on both sides, are aware of how our economies are intertwined, and these sorts of disputes are unnecessary and unhelpful. So, calmly, resolutely, firmly asserting our sovereignty and our rights, and then quietly taking appropriate actions is probably the wisest course at this point in time. I do not want to speculate as to other measures which we would have to consider at appropriate times.

Question 3

MP Pritam Singh: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I just have one supplementary question for the Minister. From the bilateral talks and the discussion, both official and non-official, does the Minister sense that the Malaysian government is sincere in resolving the various bilateral issues between the two countries on a win-win basis?

Minister: Thank you, Mr Singh. It is a salient question, but actually more complicated than it sounds. First of all, we start on the basis that we’re two sovereign nations. But we’re two sovereign nations with a complicated history, and therefore we must always expect problems to arise. We must never be surprised by problems. They will arise, and as I said just now, the only question is how we approach these problems, and as the point behind your question, the spirit behind our attempts to resolve this problem. 

Now, when you’re dealing with foreign policy, I find it very useful to clearly separate in my mind national interest from personal ties and personal relationships. Let me explain. In the case of Singapore, our top, paramount imperative is to protect our sovereignty and independence, and our national interests. Our second imperative is to abide by international law. Our third imperative is to fully honour all agreements which we have solemnly entered into. Because, after all, if you don’t honour past agreements, what value do future agreements have? It is only after you settle these three things – national interests, international law, and abiding with agreements – then the individuals, the ministers, the officials, and the agencies come into it. 

I would like to share with you the discussion which I had with Minister Azmin last night. We both concluded that it is important that ministers and officials keep the attitude of trying to solve problems, not aggravate them, not make them worse. Specifically, to your question, I think I can quite confidently state for the record that in all my interactions with Minister Saifuddin and Minister Azmin, I found them to be sincere, constructive, helpful, and I believe both of them. I hope they also reflect a larger body of opinion within Malaysia. Understand that the long-term interest of Singapore and Malaysia is best secured by working together, resolving differences, expanding areas of collaboration, and looking for new things we can do. 

One point which I also discussed with Minister Azmin who is, as you know in charge of economic affairs in Malaysia, I said, look, the world is changing in such a rapid manner. We need to focus on updating, upscaling, transforming our economies and working together, and not be caught using unnecessary bandwidth fighting unnecessary conflicts. So, sorry to give a long answer, but my short answer to you, is as far as the two whom I’ve interacted most intensively with, the answer is yes. I do detect sincerity on their part. But never, never make the mistake of assuming that personal ties can be a replacement for national interests, international law, or complying with agreements. 

So we always aim for good inter-personal ties, we always talk about friendship between countries, but remember that friendship between countries is to advance national interests. You never compromise national interests in order to have better relations. So it’s a discipline I always maintained in all my relations with my counterparts. I’m pretty sure if you spoke to Minister Saifuddin or Minister Azmin, they would say something pretty much the same. And I do my best to make sure I’m never the cause, the source of a problem. I try to be helpful. 

Question 4

MP Vikram Nair: Minister, I think I applaud Singapore’s approach in taking a calm, sensible approach to the problems, but one of the things that causes me great concern is I think that there definitely have been very constructive sounds coming out of our MFA, then after the meeting on the 8th (of January 2019) with Minister Saifuddin, there was a commitment to de-escalate. Yet less than two days after that, five vessels came into our waters. Shortly after that, the Johor Menteri Besar came in. So it may well be that Minister’s counterparts are sincere, but does that reflect the entire Malaysian government? And if they are not able to properly control or represent the rest of the Malaysian government, what can Singapore do in the event we get further intrusions into our water or airspace? Obviously, one option is bilateral discussions, which we are doing. But if one side is being sincere, and the other side is not or is not able to follow through with actions, what can we do? I would be grateful for Minister’s thoughts.

Minister: Thank you. I think in popular parlance, it’s called “good cop, bad cop”. We don’t play those sorts of games. I cannot speak for Malaysia, but I can speak for Singapore. I always say the same thing to all my counterparts that Singapore does not have the luxury of saying different things to different people. In any case, we believe it is this reputation for consistency and constancy that adds to our reputation of reliability and integrity. So that’s the way we deal. Sometimes it may come across as we are boringly consistent, and we seem to studiously avoid chest-thumping and other manifestations of nationalism. But I would submit that this is the appropriate posture for a small tiny nation-state, like Singapore. Not that we are passive, not that we give in, but consistency. 

Now, specifically dealing with the counterpart of another country which may not obey the same conventions and rules. In the case of the recent intrusion by the Johor Menteri Besar, in fact, he did that the day after the bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Saifuddin, and as I said just now, is completely against the spirit of the meeting and against the spirit of the agreement. Could we just let it pass in the name of, well, you know, we just had a successful meeting, we’re getting along, let’s not sour that? No, the answer is we cannot just let it pass. We had to take action. That’s why we had to postpone the meeting (of the 14th Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia). 

So my point is, do not take Singapore’s consistency, and some would say even predictability, for granted. We will always take appropriate measures to safeguard our interests, 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. So I hope Members appreciate this fine line that I’m trying to follow, to be resolute, but to be calm, to quietly but clearly protect our interests. It doesn’t mean we do not have sharp elbows, and sometimes we have to do it. We will do so. But again as I said, it’s still early days, so let’s see how this evolves. 

The other point I would make especially for younger Singaporeans, is that the nature of the relationship between Malaysia and Singapore will always be unique and special. And we must never be surprised, both at the up side and the down side. You know, it is, in psychological parlance, what we would call an “emotionally labile” relationship. We must not be caught surprised or flat-footed about it. I believe we shouldn’t aggravate the emotional angst, but at the same time we must also firmly protect our interests and to tell the other side that there will be consequences for actions that are taken against Singapore. 

Question 5

MP Ang Wei Neng: Thank you, Speaker. Sir, I think Singaporeans treasure the close relationship with Malaysians, and many Singapore companies employ Malaysians, and they are essential for us doing business. Many Singaporeans also love to go to Malaysia for sightseeing and shop and dine. Last month, Minister Shanmugam said that ICA officers had worked their guts out to clear the crowd at the Causeway so Singaporeans can pass through the checkpoint better. In the midst of all these sea and air disputes, what is the message we want to send to Singaporeans to help to manage this relationship better? 

Minister: Maybe that is something you should express rather than me. 

Question 6

MP Alex Yam Ziming: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I add my voice to commend the firm, measured response so far, and Malaysia has certainly provided Singaporeans with a valuable national education lesson. However, amongst some Singaporeans, there is confusion. Because provocation after provocation, so far what we seem to be doing is, every time something happens, we say, “Don’t do it again.” We are firm about it, but then it happens again, and we say, “Don’t do it again.” So I think dozens of red lines may have been crossed. To use the same popular parlance that Minister had used earlier, will there be a point in time that this good cop has to be a bit of a bad cop for our northern neighbours to understand, clearer and beyond doubt, that any further provocation will be met with an equal reaction on our part?

Minister: That is another very good question, which requires an answer. But I hope you also appreciate that as the Foreign Minister, by definition, there are some things which I cannot say and I should not say. But I want to clear up this confusion that they are the ones who have the license to provoke and that we respond, but without an equal and opposite response. Newton’s third law in diplomacy. Let me try to address it then, at several levels.

The first level starts domestically. We need to maintain unity of purpose, consensus, and a collective spirit to stand united. Because what if that domestic consensus is eroded or broken or worse? My words will carry no weight in any international negotiations. That’s one. 

The second, maybe you should ask Minister Ng Eng Hen tomorrow. But I have already said and I only had one sentence on the SAF. But to say total defence and our investment over decades in the SAF make a big difference. It makes a big difference. There are some incidents which I cannot relate today, but simply knowing that we have a credible and strong SAF again makes diplomacy much easier. 

Third, is in the spirit of candidness, sincerity, and openness, we are trying to resolve these issues because in fact, for the specific issues that have been raised, I can see a way forward to resolve all of them. And so long as there is a possibility, a probability of resolving it, then our current tack of making sure the situation remains calm and we don’t allow the situation to escalate out of hand into what I described just now into a downward spiral of measures and counter-measures. It is still the appropriate thing to do. 

Fourth is, I also said that despite our attempts to be constructive and to keep the avenue open for a negotiated settlement, our neighbours must not believe that they can take actions without impact, without consequences on themselves. So I am not going to enumerate them now. But this concept that for every action you take there are consequences, we will do so quietly but effectively. It’s the usual Singaporean way. So, that’s where we are at. 

Red lines are not something you draw lightly and not something which you should pronounce publicly without having carefully thought through all the consequences and without communicating those considerations clearly and unambiguously to the person you’re negotiating with on the other side. And I hope Members of this House and Singaporeans will understand that some of these are best conducted behind the scenes quietly, and that is why I do not believe in megaphone diplomacy.

Question 7

MP Liang Eng Hwa: Okay, Mr Speaker. Earlier, the Minister mentioned about Singapore honouring our agreements. Indeed, Singapore has more than honoured our agreements on many occasions. Just last week, we supplied additional 6 mgd (million gallons a day) of treated water to Johor state. I want to ask the Minister whether the Johor authorities appreciate what Singapore has done. And if not, then should we look at reviewing the terms again on how we supply treated water to Johor?

Minister: Minister Heng Swee Keat has just reminded me to tell you that this additional assistance is over and above the agreement. But you have brought up an important issue, water, and the water agreement. I have stated our position several times in this House. To us, the 1962 Water Agreement is sacrosanct. Why is it sacrosanct? It is because this agreement was guaranteed by both governments. In the case of Malaysia, at the federal level, and in our case, at the Singapore level, at the point of independence. And it remains one of the key appendices to our declaration of independence. That is why, it is in that sense, sacrosanct. But even beyond that, even beyond independence, it is a foundational principle of Singapore’s operating system, that we fully honour all agreements that we enter into. 

Now, specifically for water, apart from the issue of the price of raw water and the price of treated water, which are stipulated in the agreement, the volume of water that Singapore is obliged to sell to Malaysia, in fact, is only 5 million gallons a day. Strictly speaking, 2% of 250 million gallons a day. But as you have quite rightly pointed out, actually in practice for quite some time, and in fact if you ask Minister Masagos today, how much water are you supplying to Malaysia, he will tell you 16 million gallons a day. That is 11 million gallons a day more than what the Water Agreement provides for. Why do we do it? We do so out of goodwill. We do not do it because of an imposition from the Water Agreement. We do it out of goodwill. And also out of goodwill, we have also priced the additional treated water at 50 sen (per 1000 gallons), which everyone knows is a subsidised price. So, again, I just want to make these two points. We have been religiously observant of our obligations. Yes, we have done additional things out of goodwill. We hope this goodwill will be reciprocated.  

 

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