The Malaysian government has proposed to Singapore for both countries to stop sending assets into the “disputed” maritime area amid the ongoing bilateral spat over territorial boundaries.
In a statement on Friday (7 December), Malaysian Foreign Affairs Minister Saifuddin Abdullah suggested, through the Singaporean High Commissioner in Kuala Lumpur, for the two countries to observe the cease and desist action effective 0000 hours on 8 December 2018.
“The action to desist would be undertaken without prejudice to either Malaysia or Singapore’s position on maritime boundary claims over the area in question,” Saifuddin said.
On Thursday, Singapore’s Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan revealed at a media conference that there had been 14 intrusions by Malaysian government vessels into Singapore territorial waters between 24 November and 5 December.
Earlier Friday, Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen warned Malaysian government vessels to leave Singapore territorial waters.
Dr Ng said, “These are serious violations of Singapore’s sovereignty. Our security forces have acted with restraint despite continuing intrusions and provocations. Singaporeans are peace-loving, but I strongly caution violators to leave Singapore territorial waters.”
The statements by the three ministers come as bilateral tensions rose following revisions in the two countries’ Port Limits off the western side of Singapore.
On 25 October, Malaysia arbitrarily extended the Johor Bahru Port Limits, prompting the Singapore government to protest against the move.
In response to Malaysia’s “blatant” maritime provocations in recent weeks, Khaw said that Singapore extended its Port Limits off Tuas with effect from Thursday.
On Friday, the Malaysian government protested against Singapore’s amendments to its Port Limits, saying that the move violates Malaysia’s sovereignty and international law.
According to Saiffudin, Malaysia has forwarded the draft agenda for a meeting aimed at the “amicable resolution” of maritime boundary issues between the two countries, adding that it was conveyed by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to his Singapore counterpart Lee Hsien Loong during his official visit to Singapore on 12-13 November. The Malaysian government hopes the meeting could be take place sometime in the middle of December.
“At certain times, the competition between Malaysia and Singapore will be intense. But regardless of the level of intensity, Malaysia recognises that it is not helpful in the first instance to immediately characterise it in emotive terms, viewing it as challenges to sovereignty,” Saiffudin said.