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Transcript of Remarks in Parliament by Singapore Foreign Minister, Professor S Jayakumar on Singapore- Malaysia Relations

14 Mar 2003

Transcript of Remarks in Parliament by Singapore Foreign Minister, Professor S Jayakumar on Singapore- Malaysia Relations

[In response to questions on Singapore-Malaysia relations by Members of Parliament Dr Ong Chit Chung, Ms Irene Ng, and Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed]

Madam Chair, first on Malaysia-Singapore relations, I would like to thank the Members who have spoken. I do not intend to go into a great explanation of our relations because on 25 January 2003 I gave a comprehensive statement on bilateral relations. This set out the facts of the various issues, the published documents, and also set out the steps forward. So may I just confine myself to responding through general remarks. I agree with Dr Ong Chit Chung when he said that Malaysia-Singapore relations are like a yo-yo. They go up and down. I think differences are bound to emerge between close neighbours. But while that may be so, the fact remains that our countries are closely intertwined. The areas of our common interests have always been greater than that of our disagreements. It is for that reason that I believe that Malaysia and Singapore should not allow specific disagreements to affect the overall tenor of bilateral relations. We should try to address disagreements in a calm and mature way, using negotiations where possible, and if it is not possible through negotiations, if negotiations have been exhausted, then we should have recourse to the legal process. And we should continue to cooperate in areas that lend themselves to cooperation.

In this vein, I want to draw the attention of Members to the recent comments by Malaysian Deputy PM Abdullah Badawi and FM Syed Hamid Albar. DPM Abdullah Badawi was quoted as saying on 3 March 2003 that there was "an inextricable relationship between Malaysia and Singapore. There will be differences of opinion on many things. There will perhaps be periods of tension because we do not see things from the same perspective. But I believe that the relationship between Malaysia and Singapore will not deteriorate to the extent that it will involve us in any kind of conflict".

In a similar vein, on 7 March 2003, FM Syed Hamid Albar was quoted in Dubai as saying, "Both countries value peace and stability and that's why we have agreed to refer the issue (he was referring to Pedra Branca) to the ICJ. The dispute should not interfere with the long-term relations between Malaysia and Singapore".

I welcome these sentiments. Differences no doubt remain in the bilateral relationship, but so do our inter-linkages and the tremendous potential for bilateral cooperation. I think it is a sound approach to try to get beyond our disagreements and to focus on long-term relations.

I think that we are already doing that to some extent. Both countries cooperate in various international fora. In the domestic security field, there is close cooperation between both sides, both police forces. In defence, there are bilateral exchanges and common exercises. Our two economies are closely intertwined. Malaysia was Singapore's top trading partner in 2002, while Singapore has always been among Malaysia's top trading partners. There are also strong ties between the people of our two countries. Not just political and official contacts, but cultural, business, and social ones. These contacts are important as they nurture familiarity and mutual understanding. I believe this helps to preserve the positive elements in bilateral ties by fostering institutional and personal links between our two countries.

Dr Ong Chit Chung asked specific questions as to the state of the ratification process of the Special Agrreement on Pedra Branca that was signed on 6 February 2003. Let me say that on 17 February 2003, we informed Malaysia that the Singapore Government has ratified the Special Agreement and that we are ready to exchange instruments of ratification at a mutually convenient date. We are awaiting notification from Malaysia on when they are ready to exchange instruments of ratification. I am sure this will be done very soon. And when that is done, that will be one more step in the process. I cannot give an exact date. After ratification, both sides would have to have a joint letter to the Court (ICJ) and then the Court will get seized with the matter. Then there are certain timeframes for filing memorials, replies, rejoinders and so on. And as to when the Court will actually hand down its decision, this depends on the workload before the Court. But I must say that I do not see a decision being handed down earlier than two-and-half and three years' time.

So to sum up, I hope Members will understand when I do not go into great detail but confine myself to saying that we seek a cooperative relationship with Malaysia based on mutual benefit and mutual respect. If we can put our disagreements aside, and manage them in accordance to internationally recognised conventions on dispute settlement, I think we can move forward for mutual benefit. Dr Ong Chit Chung asked what is the latest state of affairs on negotiations. They are no negotiations at the moment for the reasons I explained in my 25 January 2003 statement.