Malaysia rejects Singapore’s ‘counter-proposal’ on maritime spat, willing to take steps to de-escalate situation

A Malaysian vessel intruding into Singapore territorial waters off Tuas. (Screenshot of video by Singapore’s Ministry of Defence)

The Malaysian government has rejected Singapore’s “counter-proposal” for a return to the status quo before Malaysia altered the port limits for Johor Bahru.

In a statement on Monday (10 December), the Malaysian Foreign Affairs Ministry said Malaysia will take “all effective measures to de-escalate the situation on the ground, reaffirming its position to handle the situation in a calm and peaceful manner”.

On Friday night, the Singapore government said it does not agree with Malaysia’s proposal for both countries to “cease and desist” from sending assets into the disputed maritime area.

“Malaysian government vessels should forthwith cease these provocative violations of Singapore sovereignty and return to the status quo ante before 25 October 2018, without prejudice to our respective positions on maritime boundary claims in the area,” Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

On 25 October, Malaysia purportedly extended the port limits of Johor Bahru, prompting the Singapore government to protest the move.

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.

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.

Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen also warned Malaysian government vessels to leave Singapore territorial waters.

Malaysia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry on Monday called the Singaporean High Commissioner to discuss the latest development arising from amendments to the Johor Bahru port limits and Singapore’s port limits off Tuas.

“During the discussion, the Ministry welcomed Singapore’s continued emphasis on the importance of dialogue, and its willingness to engage with Malaysia in resolving matters amicably, along with its consideration of Malaysia’s proposed agenda for the bilateral discussion,” Putrajaya said.

“Both countries acknowledge that any measures taken, would be without prejudice to their own claims.”

On Friday, Malaysian Foreign Affairs Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said the Malaysian government hopes a meeting to discuss the “amicable resolution” to the two countries’ maritime boundaries could be take place sometime in the middle of December.

Putrajaya said on Monday that Malaysia is agreeable to Singapore’s counter-proposed dates in January 2019.

It added, “In the meantime, Malaysia reiterates the importance of strong bilateral relations between the two countries, and hope that discussions will commence expeditiously.”

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