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MFA Spokesman's Comments on Recent Reports of Malaysian Concerns Over the Proposed Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) and Suggestions in the Malaysian Media to Use the JMC to Discuss Outstanding Bilateral Issues.

22 May 2007

In response to media queries on recent reports of Malaysian concerns over the proposed Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC), the MFA Spokesman said:

"Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi had agreed in Langkawi that it would be useful to set up a Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) as a platform for Singapore and Malaysia to explore ideas for collaboration in the Iskandar Development Region (IDR) project, and ways in which Singapore can help the IDR to succeed. The JMC will not be involved in the running of the IDR. Malaysian officials themselves have made this clear. Johor Menteri Besar Abdul Ghani Othman has said that the Committee is "neither consultative nor has decision-making powers in its role" (Bernama, 18 May 2007), while the High Commissioner to Singapore N Parameswaran had reportedly debunked "baseless allegations that the formation of a joint Malaysia-Singapore committee to oversee the cooperation in the Iskandar Development Region (IDR) would affect Malaysia's sovereignty." (Bernama, 18 May 2007)

This being so, Singapore does not see how the setting up of the JMC is a "concession" to Singapore as some have suggested.

"However, to avoid any misapprehension, Singapore will let Malaysia take the lead on the JMC. We will proceed with it only if the Malaysian and Johor authorities want us to do so."

In response to media queries about suggestions in the Malaysian media to use the JMC to discuss outstanding bilateral issues, the MFA Spokesman said:

"The JMC is a forum with a specific purpose, that is, to facilitate Singapore-Malaysia cooperation in the IDR."

As for the outstanding bilateral issues, the two leaders had agreed to deal with them later and not let them hold back the bilateral cooperation in the IDR. Singapore shares the view of Prime Minister Abdullah, when he said that "We'll deal with the outstanding issues later. We don't want to get blocked while trying to resolve these issues, while there are other things that we would like to do" (Bernama, 15 May 2007). As Prime Minister Lee had said in Langkawi, these outstanding bilateral issues are not easy to resolve. It is best to deal with them separately in a way that will be completely acceptable to both sides, and at the same time not affect the overall bilateral relationship. Prime Minister Lee cited the example of Pedra Branca, which is being settled amicably through adjudication at the International Court of Justice.

In Langkawi, both Prime Ministers reaffirmed the importance of Singapore-Malaysia relations not only to the peoples on both sides of the Causeway but also as a catalyst for regional growth. PM Abdullah invited Singapore to support and invest in the IDR project. Singapore studied the project papers it was given. We decided to do so because although the IDR will mean more competitive pressures on Singapore, there are also complementary aspects that will benefit Singapore. This mutual benefit is the only basis for sound long term cooperation because every project means both cooperation and competition. But once an agreement is reached, both parties have to abide by what has been agreed. The terms cannot be subsequently changed for whatever reasons. A good start has been made in Langkawi to move into a phase of strategic cooperation. Singapore looks forward to working closely with Malaysia to make further progress in the months and years ahead.

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MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
SINGAPORE
22 MAY 2007