Don't jump up and down each time Mahathir speaks: Ng Eng Hen

Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen attends the fifth plenary session during the 17th Asia Security Summit of the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 3, 2018. (PHOTO: NICHOLAS YEO/AFP via GETTY IMAGES)
Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen. (PHOTO: NICHOLAS YEO/AFP via GETTY IMAGES)

SINGAPORE — Singaporeans should not get worked up over comments made by former two-time Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, said Singapore's defence minister Ng Eng Hen on Thursday (30 June).

Speaking to local media at the defence ministry headquarters ahead of the 55th anniversary of National Service in Singapore, Ng said, "If you want to jump up and down each time Dr Mahathir speaks, then you will be jumping like a jumping bean."

He was responding to a question on remarks made by Mahathir recently about reclaiming lost Malay lands, including Singapore and Indonesia's Riau Islands.

"I'm not sure that I need to give a response because Dr Mahathir wasn't talking to us... He's a known entity, is respected as an elder and he has dealt with previous prime ministers, including (Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong)," he was quoted as saying by The Straits Times.

He later added, "You have to take a few breaths and give him the respect that he is due. He says it for different audiences, and he himself said that those comments were not for us, so we should just take it at face value."

Controversial comments on Malay lands

Last week, Mahathir, who is Member of Parliament for Langkawi, sparked controversy with neighbours Singapore and Indonesia for his comments on Malay lands.

In a speech on 19 June which was uploaded online, he said that Malay lands stretched from the Isthmus of Kra in southern Thailand to the Riau Islands.

"We should demand not just that Pedra Branca, or Pulau Batu Puteh, be returned to us, instead we should also demand for the return of Singapore and the Riau Islands to Malaysia as Malay lands," he said.

"But today, we are left with only the peninsula... I wonder whether we will continue to own this peninsula. I am worried for the future of Malays, whether the peninsula land will also be owned by another party," he added.

Three days later, Indonesia's foreign ministry rebutted the claim on the Riau Islands, saying there was no legal basis for it.

"In a time when the world is facing many challenges, a senior politician should not be making baseless statements that can harm friendships," said a foreign ministry spokesman.

A day later, Mahathir claimed his comments were taken out of context.

"I am not asking Malaysia to claim the land that we had lost," he said. "I am trying to point out that we are so concerned over losing a table-size rock but never about bigger parts of Malaysia when they were taken from us."

Separately, Mahathir - who turns 97 on 10 July - said on Wednesday that he may defend his parliament seat at the next general election, which must be called by September next year, if there are no suitable candidates from his Pejuang party.

He had in March said that he would not contest the next election due to age and health, having been hospitalised for a month early this year for an elective medical procedure.