Singapore should deal with the new Malaysian government with “respect, maturity and understanding”, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, amid recent comments by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad about its water agreement with the Republic.
Speaking to reporters on Friday (29 June) ahead of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Day on Sunday, Dr Ng stressed that it is unnecessary “to respond to their every articulation” as well as not to “jump up and down when their styles and priorities change”.
“(For example, if) you live in an HDB flat – your new neighbour comes in, you can hear through the walls what he says to his family, you don’t go knocking on your neighbour’s door giving input,” said Dr Ng with a laugh.
Dr Mahathir recently described the price of water sold to Singapore as “manifestly ridiculous” in an interview with Singapore broadcaster Channel NewsAsia (CNA). Earlier, Bloomberg had reported that the 92-year-old wanted to renegotiate the 1962 water supply deal with Singapore, which expires in 2061.
The deal allows Singapore to buy 250 million gallons of raw water from the Johore River daily at three sen per 1,000 gallons. In return, Malaysia can buy back a portion of that, at 50 sen (17 cents) per 1,000 gallons of treated water.
“That was okay way back in the 1990s or 1930s. But now what can you buy with three sen? Nothing,” said Dr Mahathir in the CNA interview.
The water agreement is one of several issues raised by Dr Mahathir in recent months. In May, he pledged to scrap the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail project agreed upon with the previous administration of Najib Rajak, citing the need to reduce Malaysia’s RM1 trillion (S$337 billion) debt.
Dr Mahathir also recently announced plans to expand Middle Rocks in the Singapore Strait to “form a small island”. The rocky outcrop off the waterway was awarded to Malaysia by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2008. In the same ruling, the ICJ also ruled that Singapore had territorial rights over the nearby island of Pedra Branca.
Dr Ng noted that as long as all parties keep to agreements and comply with international laws, collaboration with Singapore’s closest neighbour should be explored with mutual benefits in mind.
“We are neighbours for life. Just take it within our stride,” he said.
Dr Ng was also asked about a recent Straits Times interview with newly-appointed Malaysian Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu, where Sabu talked about the prospect of both countries conducting joint patrols around Pedra Branca and Middle Rocks.
“I completely support what he said. It makes no sense to deploy more resources around Pedra Branca and Middle Rocks if we can decide on a common plan,” said Dr Ng, who met his Malaysian counterpart in their first official meeting on the sidelines of the 17th Shangri-La Dialogue in June.
“If we can come to an understanding as we do, for example, search and rescue missions that we have. I am glad he proposed it,” he added.
“We have many meetings lined up in the future… and we will continue to explore those.”