Even as Singapore and Malaysia have set up a meeting between their respective foreign ministers to discuss the ongoing airspace issues, Singapore has registered another concern over Malaysia’s establishment of a “permanent Restricted Area” over the Pasir Gudang airspace from Wednesday (2 January).
The Ministry of Transport (MOT) released a media statement on Tuesday in response to the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia publishing a Notice to Airmen on 25 December to inform the aviation community of its establishment of a “permanent Restricted Area for the purpose of military activities over Pasir Gudang”.
It said, “The Restricted Area being within a controlled and congested airspace will impact the existing and normal operations of aircraft transiting through the airspace.”
MOT has further proposed a meeting with the Malaysian authorities to discuss the establishment of the Restricted Area.
Foreign ministers meeting on 8 January
In a separate statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said that Singapore foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan will meet with his Malaysian counterpart Saifuddin Abdullah in Singapore on 8 January.
While the statement did not elaborate on what will be discussed, Bernama on Tuesday quoted Saifuddin as saying the dispute over airspace would be on the agenda.
MFA added that there are plans for the transport ministers of both countries to meet soon.
DPM Teo, Finance Minister Heng met Mahathir on Monday
MFA also said that Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat had visited Putrajaya on Monday to convey a message to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, on behalf of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
While MFA did not elaborate on details of the message, Saifuddin told Bernama on Tuesday, “My visit to Singapore is a continuation of the meeting yesterday. There are several issues, but the one that must be given immediate attention is Singapore’s plans for the Seletar Airport which will pass through the airspace over Pasir Gudang, Johor.
“We protested and declared the airspace a restricted area, and this will be a problem to Singapore. I am confident the issue will be discussed well to find a win-win solution for both countries.”
Singapore’s Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan had said last month that the Republic is gearing up for talks over the maritime issue in January and is planning to negotiate “in good faith”.
Recent airspace, port limits issues
Airspace – as well as port limits – has become a bilateral issue in recent months. Malaysia has objected to new landing procedures at Seletar Airport scheduled to be enforced on 3 January. It claims that the Instrument Landing System procedures will adversely affect developments in Johor’s Pasir Gudang Port and also wants to reclaim management of the airspace, where Singapore has been providing air traffic services since 1974.
Singapore has said that the procedures – which will guide pilots landing there with ground instruments instead of relying on their visual assessment – will not pose any safety or security risks to operations at Pasir Gudang Port. It also said that management of the skies has nothing to do with sovereignty but was delegated to Singapore’s management under an agreement with regional states, including Malaysia, in 1973, and this was approved by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
Malaysia also unilaterally extended the Johor Baru port limits such that they encroach on Singapore’s territorial waters off Tuas. In response, Singapore extended its own port limits on 6 December, a move that drew protest from Malaysia.
PM Lee said in his New Year Message that both nations “must manage specific problems, however difficult, while preserving the overall relationship”.
“The way to do so is through equality and mutual respect, upholding international commitments and the rule of law,” he added.