Singapore and Malaysia ties hindered by 'past baggage’, need to avoid 'destructive path’: Khaw

Nicholas Yong
Assistant News Editor
Singapore Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan giving a media briefing at Parliament House on 6 December 2018 on Malaysia’s intrusions into Singapore Territorial Waters. PHOTO: Nicholas Yong/Yahoo News Singapore

Singapore Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said on Thursday (6 December) that the ongoing maritime spat between Singapore and Malaysia is giving him “deja vu” as “past baggage” continues to bedevil bilateral ties.

Speaking at a media conference in Parliament to give an update on the maritime spat between the two countries, Khaw said he is “very saddened” by recent developments and stressed the need to avoid a “destructive path”.

“When I discussed the High Speed Rail (HSR) Project with (Malaysian Economic Affairs) Minister Azmin Ali, I had a distinct feeling that the young Ministers in Malaysia want a fresh relationship with Singapore, without any past baggage…I believe the citizens on both sides of the Causeway also expect the younger leadership on both sides to work together for a brighter win-win future,” Khaw told reporters.

“One of them (Malaysia’s young ministers) told me that their own rakyat (Malaysian people) look forward to a new future, without the shadow of the past.”

He added, “Why must we pursue a destructive path? Beggar thy neighbour…if we work together, there are so many things we can achieve together.”

A plea for mutual cooperation

A chronology of key events since 1979 on the maritime spat between Singapore and Malaysia. (PHOTO: Singapore Ministry of Transport)

When asked what he meant by “past baggage”, Khaw declined to comment, adding, “I leave you to draw your own conclusions.”

Earlier in the conference, the 65-year-old noted that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had raised the maritime issue with his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad when the latter visited Singapore in November. “PM Lee flagged this issue with PM Mahathir, as one that could affect our bilateral relationship.

“Unfortunately, further developments since then have made the situation more serious.”

There is “so much” that Singapore and Malaysia can gain by working together, the minister stressed. Citing the example of the HSR, Khaw said Singapore had decided not to utilise the “full legal extent” of the bilateral agreement on the project and instead allowed Malaysia to defer it in the spirit of bilateral cooperation.

The maritime spat is the latest in a series of bilateral issues that have cropped up since the Pakatan Harapan coalition took power power in Malaysia in May such as the perennial bugbear of the status of the water agreement.

On Tuesday, Khaw also briefed reporters about the Malaysian government’s desire to reclaim its airspace over southern Johor, which has been managed by Singapore authorities for more than four decades.

When asked on Thursday if the ongoing disputes affecting bilateral ties are isolated or otherwise, Khaw replied, “Is there a pattern? I hope not.”

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