KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 6 — Singapore’s transport minister issued a strong warning to Malaysia today, promising that it will respond with “firm actions” to protect its territory and sovereignty as the two South-east Asian neighbours lock horns over their maritime borders.
In a statement, Khaw Boon Wan said the island republic is extending its port limits off Tuas with immediate effect as he accused Malaysia of “unilaterally and arbitrarily” extending its maritime territory off Johor.
“Our security agencies will continue to patrol the area, and respond to unauthorised activities on the ground. They have so far responded with restraint against aggressive actions by the Malaysian Government Vessels.
“But Singapore cannot allow our sovereignty to be violated, or new facts on the ground to be created. Therefore, if it becomes necessary, we will not hesitate to take firm actions against intrusions and unauthorised activities in our waters to protect our territory and sovereignty,” he said.
Khaw accused Malaysian government vessels of intruding into Singapore’s waters 14 times to date, adding that three were allegedly still there as of today.
He said the alleged intrusions were a violation of Singapore’s sovereignty that is hurting it bid for “friendly relations and close cooperation with Malaysia”.
He added that while Singapore understands that countries amend their port limits from time to time, as it had done so in 1997, it must be carried out in a way that does not contravene international law or infringe on the sovereignty of another country.
“I am very saddened by this development. Having been in government for 40 years, I cannot help feeling a sense of déjà vu,” he said.
Malaysia has rejected Singapore’s assertion that it crossed the maritime border line into the republic’s territory.
Transport Minister Anthony Loke said the altered Johor Baru port limits gazetted on October 25 were well within Malaysian territory.
He added that Singapore’s claim that its borders had been extended through land reclamation was not valid under international law.
Loke told the Singapore government to withdraw its conflicting maritime circular dated November 30 and to refrain from sending its enforcement officers into Malaysian territory.
But Loke also offered to engage with Singapore for an amicable solution to the dispute.