Singapore-Malaysia working group had 'constructive discussions' on maritime issues

Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan (left) and Malaysia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Saifuddin Abdullah (right). (PHOTO: Reuters/Getty Images)

The working group which was set up to look into the ongoing maritime dispute involving the respective port limits of Singapore and Malaysia met for the first time in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on Monday (28 January).

According to a joint media statement released the same day by the foreign affairs ministries of both countries, the group had “constructive discussions on a set of positive recommendations which will be submitted to the foreign ministers of Malaysia and Singapore for their consideration when finalised”.

The working group was announced by Singapore’s Foreign Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan and his Malaysian counterpart Saifuddin Abdullah after they met in Singapore on 8 January. It was tasked with discussing legal and operational matters, in order to de-escalate the situation on the ground and provide a basis for further discussions and negotiations.

It is co-headed by the Permanent Secretary of Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chee Wee Kiong, and the Secretary-General of the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Muhammad Shahrul Ikram Yaakob.

Dispute started last October

Singapore and Malaysia have been embroiled in a maritime dispute since 25 October last year, sparked off by Malaysia’s unilateral decision to extend the Johor Bahru port limits. Subsequently, there were repeated intrusions of Malaysian government vessels into Singapore waters, beyond what Malaysia had previously claimed as its own waters in a 1979 map.

Singapore lodged a “strong protest” with the Malaysian government in response, and extended its own port limits to cover the full extent of the Republic’s territorial waters. Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan added that Malaysia’s actions were “a serious violation of Singapore’s sovereignty and international law”.

Airspace issues over Pasir Gudang

Both countries are also locked in a dispute over Singapore’s introduction of new landing procedures for Seletar Airport and Malaysia’s subsequent decision to declare a restricted zone over Pasir Gudang for the purpose of military activities.

On 8 January, Singapore and Malaysia had agreed to a one-month suspension of the restricted area over Pasir Gudang and the new Instrument Landing System (ILS) at Seletar Airport. Both countries agreed last week to extend their mutual suspension of two measures to 31 March.

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