Important to have 'boring and consistent' approach to foreign policy: Vivian Balakrishnan

Singapore's Parliament House. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)
Singapore's Parliament House. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — It is important for Singapore to have a “boring and consistent” approach to foreign policy based on principles, said Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Monday (2 March).

Dr Balakrishnan was responding during the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MFA) Committee of Supply debate to a question by Member of Parliament (MP) Vikram Nair on whether any bilateral projects with Malaysia would be affected by the recent change in administration in Putrajaya.

The Malaysian King on Sunday swore in Muhyiddin Yassin as prime minister following a week of political turmoil in the country which saw Dr Mahathir Mohamad resigning as premier on 24 February.

Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong congratulated his new Malaysian counterpart on Sunday, adding that he was confident the Republic’s long-standing relationship with Malaysia would grow under Muhyiddin’s leadership. He also invited Muhyiddin to visit Singapore soon, saying that they had much to discuss.

Nair, MP for Sembawang GRC, was seeking clarification about the impact on bilateral ties following the latest political developments. He asked, “Because typically when an administration changes or notwithstanding they may have good relationships with us, they may have different priorities from the previous administration, and are there any projects that we think may slow down as a result of that... what could we do about that?”

In reply, Dr Balakrishnan said that as the Cabinet in Malaysia has not been announced, he did not want to “prejudge the issue”.

“But I will just make two points that we know all the people on the political scene in Malaysia. And in fact we've taken extra effort to maintain those links, and to build that reservoir of goodwill and trust, so let's keep an open mind,” he said.

“The second point I want to make is the importance of consistency and a principled foreign policy. So I hope this is a moment where Singaporeans will appreciate it's good to be boring and consistent,” he added.

Earlier, Dr Balakrishnan said that Singapore was looking forward to resuming talks with the new Malaysian government on the delayed Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High Speed Rail (HSR) and the Johor Bahru Rapid Transit System (RTS) projects.

He noted that after the Pakatan Harapan government took office in May 2018, the projects were delayed.

“When that happened, Singapore could have enforced our legal rights, and we could have sought full compensation from Malaysia. But in the spirit of constructive bilateral cooperation at Malaysia's request, we agreed to temporarily suspend both projects through formal agreements.”

Dr Balakrishnan said that Singapore gave Malaysia some time to review its position and to propose amendments to what had been previously agreed to contractually.

“However, these major infrastructural projects cannot be suspended indefinitely. At some point, we do need to decide whether to proceed or not.”

On maritime boundary delimitation, Dr Balakrishnan said the two countries have held constructive talks on the issue and are cooperating in other areas such as the development of Iskandar Malaysia and joint efforts by the health authorities from both countries to fight the COVID-19 outbreak.

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