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Edited Transcript of the Media Wrap-Up with Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan after the Joint Press Conference in Putrajaya, 14 March 2019

14 March 2019

CNA: Minister if I could ask, during the discussions, the meetings you had in January and today, it has always been considered constructive and positive. But then, also we hear it being played out in parliament on both sides, having a sparring of words. What will it take then to have that concrete set of negotiations to come on the same page?

 

Minister: Well, I think today’s agreement is a very important first step. The key point is that we are reverting to the situation that existed before the 25th of October last year. So that’s why you see, pursuant to that, it means the port limits revert to that, the Malaysian vessels would have to leave the area. There will be no commercial activities there. Basically, it will revert to what it was before all this occurred. The main objective here is to de-escalate the situation on the ground, and make sure to lower the risk of untoward incidents.

 

Once that gets done, then you set the environment right, then we can commence negotiations for the delimitation. But you can’t have negotiations if there are things happening on the ground, or there’s tension and there is a very real risk of collision or accidents.

 

So this is an important first step. But it’s only a first step and it is a long journey because obviously in the case of Malaysia, I have said this before, including in Parliament. They are our closest permanent neighbours, because of history, because of proximity, there will always be issues from time to time.

 

Right now, we’ve got several issues that need to be resolved. My approach is to resolve them one by one. Wherever we can make progress, we will make progress. Those which will take longer to gestate, we will do so in a more deliberate, careful way. So this is a positive step, but one step in a long journey.

 

ST: Minister, there was a suggestion from Malaysia last year to vacate the area already, but that didn't happen then. What has changed since?

 

Minister: No, that proposal last year was not acceptable because in our view, these are our territorial waters. We don't allow ships to anchor there, we don't allow commercial activities. We have always patrolled, and we will do all these things now. So this is very different from what was proposed last year. We could not accept that proposal because in our view that would have meant a reduction in our position with respect to our territorial sovereignty.

 

ST: So can you just outline what is different from that proposal and what was agreed today?

 

Minister: In today’s proposal, their ships would leave, the port limits will revert to the situation before the 25th of October, and we will continue to patrol those areas in accordance with our laws and in accordance with the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea). So there will be lowered risk of incidents, we go back to the pre-existing situation that we had before October last year. And then we can sit down, we can commence the process of negotiations for delimitation.

 

ST: So the difference would be that you're still allowed to patrol?

 

Minister: There’s no question about that, these are our waters, we will patrol. There is no doubt about that.

 

ST: The difference of proposals from the previous round was that Malaysia wanted no patrols or activities.  

 

Minister: Well, we didn't go into details of previous proposal but in any case that was not acceptable. So the main purpose of these arrangements now are to de-escalate the situation on the ground, and avoid risk of accidents and incidents. Once these measures that we have agreed upon are implemented, then within a month of these measures being implemented, we can commence the process of delimitation.

 

CNA-DIGITAL:  Both countries have made a stand clear on the water agreement over the last few days. You mentioned just now that there will be a continuing discussion. What is the direction of this discussion between the two Attorneys-General?

 

Minister: Well, both sides have made it very clear that we have differing views on the right of review. In the case of Singapore, our consistent and long held position is that Malaysia has lost the right to review the price of water.

 

They have a different view, and the suggestion that was made by both Prime Ministers was for the Attorneys-General, on both sides, sit down and let both sides get a better appreciation of each other's interpretation of the right of review. That first discussion was actually supposed to have occurred in December last year, but unfortunately got overshadowed by the disputes on the port limits and on airspace. So that first meeting really did not make any progress and certainly no agreements were reached.

 

We will now anticipate that sometime in the near future, the two Attorneys-General will get together, and again, give them an opportunity to discuss so that there's a better appreciation for our respective positions. But I want to stress that there is no agreement at this point in time. There is only agreement to sit down, to explain, discuss and to appreciate each other's respective positions.

 

TODAY: Minister, with regard to the recent recommendations today, what if Malaysia does not respect or abide by (them)… Because it has happened before?

 

Minister: Then we won’t commence [boundary] negotiations.

 

LHZB: Minister does this mean that this agreement is just temporary?

 

Minister: No it’s very clear cut that we’ve agreed on five items. The first four items need to be fulfilled in their entirety, then we can commence negotiations. Let’s see how things work out over the days and weeks to come. Thank you.

 

 

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