Dr M: Can’t avoid differences, competition between Malaysia, Singapore

Zurairi Ar
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during a bilateral meeting at The Istana in Singapore November 12, 2018. — Picture courtesy of the Department of Information Malaysia

SINGAPORE, Nov 12 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad conceded today that Malaysia and Singapore cannot avoid having differences and will remain in a state of competition.

However, the prime minister said the two countries have come to mutually rely and depend on each other as one of the major trade partners, and will continue to work with each other.

“There will be some differences, there will also be competition... But the competition is always healthy. It helps us to make an effort, to win.

“It only helps us to grow even faster,” Dr Mahathir said at an official lunch hosted by his Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana here.

Malaysia-Singapore ties became somewhat thorny after Dr Mahathir returned to power in the May general election. Leaders of both government sparred publicly through the media over issues old and new, ranging from the water price, construction of the “crooked bridge,” and the High-Speed Rail project.

But the bilateral relationship is warmer than the first Mahathir administration under Barisan Nasional and when the late Lee Kuan Yew was prime minister of Singapore.

His son, Hsien Loong, was among the first to pay Dr Mahathir a casual visit just days after Pakatan Harapan won the general election.

Dr Mahathir also said that the two neighbours both have their own role to play in the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean), and together they can make the regional group very effective.

Besides the two-day official visit here, Dr Mahathir is also in Singapore for the Asean Summit 2018 this week.

He had lauded the group for its tenacity, claiming that not many regional associations could survive this long.

Asean was formed in 1967 with five members: Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand.

“When we became independent, we were very aggressive, and we confounded each other. We didn't regard ourselves as friends, as neighbours.

“We saw each other as sworn competitors,” Dr Mahathir related, but said everything changed after the Indonesian–Malaysian confrontation was over by 1966.

Dr Mahathir called on Singaporean President Halimah Yaacob this morning before holding a bilateral meeting with Lee. The Singaporean government then named an orchid variant after himself and his wife Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali.

The prime minister is scheduled to meet the Malaysian diaspora here next this afternoon.

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