Let’s both avoid disputed waters, Malaysia tells Singapore

Raynore Mering
Saifuddin said he hopes that a meeting could be convened in the middle of this month between the two countries to find an amicable resolution to its maritime boundary issues. — Picture by Azinuddin Ghazali

PETALING JAYA, Dec 7 — Malaysia has proposed that from midnight tomorrow Singapore and Malaysia ‘cease and desist’ from sending assets into the disputed area off Tuas which is affected by the alteration of Johor Baru’s port limits.

Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said the proposal has been relayed to Singapore through its High Commissioner in Kuala Lumpur today, pending discussions on outstanding maritime boundary issues between the two countries.

“The action to desist would be undertaken without prejudice to either Malaysia or Singapore’s position on maritime boundary claims over the area in question,” he said in a statement.

Saifuddin added that Putrajaya had informed Singapore of its objections to the decision of the Singapore government over the issuance of a circular yesterday by the republic’s Maritime and Port Authority which purports to extend Singapore’s port limits off Tuas.

He said Malaysia had highlighted the fact that the new and purported unilateral port limit extension by Singapore encroaches into Malaysia’s territorial waters and the established Johor Baru port limits as indicated in the Federal Government Gazette’s “Declaration of Alteration of Port Limits for Johore Bahru Port”, which was published on October 25 by the Attorney-General’s Chambers of Malaysia.

“This is a clear violation of Malaysia’s sovereignty and international law. The Government of Malaysia therefore called upon the Government of Singapore to withdraw its Port Marine Circular No. 9,” said Saifuddin.

That said, Saifuddin pointed out that Putrajaya hoped that a meeting could be convened in the middle of this month between the two countries to find an amicable resolution to its maritime boundary issues.

He said the draft agenda for the meeting was conveyed by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to his Singapore counterpart, Lee Hsien Loong, when he visited the city-state on November 12 and 13.

Earlier, Saifuddin said in the statement that Malaysia-Singapore ties were special and unique, referring to Dr Mahathir’s Facebook post yesterday that characterised the relationship akin to twins and at times, the competition between Malaysia and Singapore will be intense.

“But regardless of the level of intensity, Malaysia recognises that it is not helpful in the first instance to immediately characterise it in emotive terms, viewing it as challenges to sovereignty.

“Of course, all governments are duty-bound to defend the nation’s sovereignty. Equally, it is the responsibility of the people to unite behind the government should this occur. Malaysia would do the same if the situation warrants it.

“However, not all disagreements should be seen in terms of challenges to a principle. Rather, all disagreements must be worked through in a spirit of dialogue and cooperation,” Saifuddin said.

He said it was in this spirit that Malaysia had proposed that the sending of assets from both countries cease from midnight tomorrow.

Yesterday, Singapore’s transport minister had issued a strong warning to Malaysia, 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”.

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