Malaysia doesn't want a return to 'confrontational diplomacy' with Singapore: PM Najib

Nicholas Yong
Senior Correspondent
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak (left) shakes hands with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana on Tuesday (16 January). (PHOTO: EFE)

Malaysia does not want a return to the era of “confrontational diplomacy” and “barbed rhetoric” between itself and Singapore, said Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Tuesday (16 January).

In an apparent dig at former premier Mahathir Mohamad, who was recently picked by Malaysia’s opposition alliance as its prime ministerial candidate for the upcoming general election, Najib added, “It was an era that we want to forget. We certainly do not want to come back to that era.”

The 92-year-old Mahathir, who served as Malaysia’s prime minister from 1981 to 2003, was known for his aggressive brand of politics – an approach he applied to his dealings with Singapore as well.

Najib was speaking during a joint press conference alongside Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, following the end of the 8th Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat.

The Malaysian leader was responding to a question on how political developments, specifically the upcoming general election, might affect the bilateral agreements signed between the two countries at the retreat.

Earlier in the day, the two leaders signed a bilateral agreement on the 4km-long Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link – the planned high-speed rail line which will run from Woodlands North station to Bukit Chagar in Johor. The RTS Link, which is slated to complete by 2024, will carry up to 10,000 passengers per hour in each direction.

To the same question, PM Lee said, “Like all projects which involve more than one country and span more than one term of government, it requires long-term commitment… the agreement that we signed today between the two governments is a binding agreement, and whoever is the government on either side, well, this is an agreement that they inherit and are party to.

“And if the subsequent government has other ideas, well, that will have to be dealt with… but I have no doubt on Singapore’s side, we have every intention of implementing what we signed and committed to today.”

A question was also posed to Lee as to how domestic developments in both countries might affect bilateral relations with Malaysia.

“What domestic developments do you have in mind in Singapore?” asked Lee in response.

“I don’t think the Cabinet reshuffle in Singapore will affect our bilateral relations. And I look forward to our bilateral relations being stable.”

Najib added that he did not expect the Malaysian election to change the nature of relations with Singapore, to which Lee added to laughter, “Because you have confidence in the result.”

(Watch the video of the entire press conference below)

Related stories:

Toll charges at Second Link may be revised to ease congestion at Causeway: Najib

Malaysia’s opposition alliance names 92-year-old Mahathir as PM candidate

COMMENT: Singapore’s political succession in a disruptive world