Singapore welcomes Malaysian delegates

Singapore’s Foreign Ministry says Malaysian Economic Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali is visiting the city-state, despite recent difficulties with Johor’s chief minister.

Bilateral tensions are rising between the neighbours over increasing alleged Malaysian encroachment into Singaporean territory.

Foreign Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan posted on Facebook that he had a “good meeting of minds” over dinner with Azmin, adding that there were “far more opportunities for Malaysia and Singapore to work together, especially at this time of global economic transformation”.

Singapore has delayed a Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia, scheduled for this weekend over alleged territorial encroachment.

The Lion City’s Foreign Ministry said it sent a diplomatic note to Malaysia to protest against the “unauthorised visit” by Johor’s chief minister Osman Sapian to the Malaysia naval vessel Pedoman, which was “anchored illegally in Singapore territorial waters off Tuas”.

“Such a provocative act went against the spirit of the agreement reached a day earlier by [Balakrishnan and his Malaysian counterpart, Saifuddin Abdullah] to resolve bilateral issues in a calm and constructive manner,” said the ministry.

Bilateral relations have been shaken up since 93-year-old Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad surprisingly won the Malaysian general election in May 2018.

There are also several other bilateral airspace and maritime disputes.

The Malaysian navy has been accused of making repeated incursions into Singapore waters in recent months, after Malaysia extended the Johor Bahru port limits in October, encroaching into waters near Tuas (pictured).

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said there had been up to 14 intrusions by Malaysian vessels in the two weeks before December 6.

Singapore has protested against the port limit extension and the movements of Malaysian vessels and its Transport Ministry extended port limits off Tuas on December 6 in response.

Singapore’s Foreign Ministry said on Sunday that the chief minister’s move created an atmosphere “unconducive” for holding the joint committee meeting.

The committee was set up in 2007 to cooperate in the South Johor economic zone of Iskandar.

Despite the meeting’s cancellation, the Malaysian Foreign Ministry expressed its confidence in bilateral engagement with Singapore. It said both foreign ministers “are in communication and agreed that both sides should remain calm and not sensationalise the matter”.

But it also denied the Singaporean allegation about

Osman Sapian’s intrusion into city-state territory, saying he remained within Malaysian territorial waters on January 9.

Potential flashpoint? Singapore’s Tuas. Picture credit: Wikimedia