Malaysia sends Singapore two protest notes on airspace, port limits issues

The Johor Straits near Tuas. (FILE PHOTO: Reuters/Edgar Su)
The Johor Straits near Tuas. (FILE PHOTO: Reuters/Edgar Su)

The Malaysian government has sent two protest notes to Singapore – via the Singaporean High Commissioner to Malaysia – that pertain to the current issues of airspace and maritime boundary delimitation facing both countries.

Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a media release on Wednesday (5 December) that in the first note – which pertains to Singapore’s publication of the Instrument Landing System (ILS) and ILS Approach Procedures for Seletar Airport on 1 December – it has registered the Malaysian government’s “strong objection and protest to the said publication by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) without the agreement of the Government of Malaysia”.

Malaysia had previously protested the publication of the ILS by Singapore, citing the impact of the Seletar Airport flight path on developments and shipping operations in Pasir Gudang in Johor. It also signalled its intention to reclaim its airspace over southern Johor from Singapore in phases between 2019 and 2023.

In response, Singapore said that the ILS simply puts on paper the existing flight paths, making safety rules clearer and more transparent.

‘Violation of Malaysia’s sovereignty’

In the media release on Wednesday, Malaysia’s foreign affairs ministry said: “The unilateral act by the Government of Singapore is a violation of Malaysia’s sovereignty and is an intrusion of Malaysia’s sovereign airspace above its territory.

“This contradicts the principles that each State has complete and exclusive sovereignty over the airspace above its territory; and that the delegation of a State’s responsibility for its air traffic services over its territory does not derogate its sovereignty.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia therefore reiterates the call by the Government of Malaysia for the immediate withdrawal of the publication of ILS and ILS Approach Procedures for Seletar Airport by the Government of Singapore.”

The ILS procedure refers to an assisted navigational aviation facility that provides vertical and horizontal guidance to pilots at the airport while the flight is descending and approaching the runway.

Rejection of statement on repeated vessel incursions

The second protest note pertains to the issue of repeated incursions by Malaysian vessels into Singapore’s territorial waters off Tuas, in the wake of a purported extension of the Johor Baru port limits via a Malaysian government gazette.

In the note, the Malaysian government categorically rejects Singapore’s statement that the move to extend the Johor Baru port limits “has resulted in the encroachment of the port limits in Singapore’s territorial waters off Tuas, or that it is a violation of Singapore’s sovereignty and international law”.

It added, “The Government of Malaysia affirms that the new Johor Baru Port Limits are within Malaysia’s territorial sea. Further, it is well within the Government of Malaysia’s right to draw any port limit in its territorial sea in accordance with Malaysia’s own national laws.

“As such, the Government of Malaysia refutes the view that Malaysia’s government vessels had intruded into Singapore territorial waters off Tuas.”

The Malaysian Foreign Ministry maintained that it is within Malaysia’s rights to deploy its enforcement and implementation agencies within its territorial sea, and that the practice is “fully consistent” with international law.

“As such, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency and the Marine Department of Malaysia have not intruded into any part of Singapore’s territorial waters,” it said.

Meeting proposed to discuss issues

In the media release, the ministry also noted the strong bilateral relations between Malaysia and Singapore, and proposed a meeting between the foreign ministries of both countries to discuss the marine boundary issues.

“It is important to avoid any acts which may lead to escalation and fuel tension,” it said. “This spirit of dialogue will also inform contacts between the Ministers of Transport to resolve the ILS and delegated airspace issues.”

Related stories:

‘Urgent need’ for Malaysia to stop intrusions into Singapore’s Territorial Waters: Balakrishnan

MOT releases documents detailing extensive discussions on Seletar Airport airspace issue

Malaysian sea incursions have violated Singapore’s sovereignty, international law: Khaw

Changes to airspace arrangements need consultations with stakeholders: Singapore MOT