Singapore does not agree with Malaysia’s proposal for both to avoid 'disputed area'

Singapore and Malaysia have been locked in disputes over air space and territorial boundaries in Singapore’s waters off Tuas. — TODAY pic
Singapore and Malaysia have been locked in disputes over air space and territorial boundaries in Singapore’s waters off Tuas. — TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, Dec 7 — Following Malaysia’s proposal to Singapore for “both countries to cease and desist" from sending assets into waters off Tuas, Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan responded by saying that Singapore remains ready to discuss the issue, but does not agree with the proposal.

Dr Balakrishnan said in a Facebook post tonight that he already told Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah on Wednesday that Malaysian government vessels have repeatedly intruded into Singapore territorial waters after the purported extension of Johor’s port limits on October 25.

“Malaysian Government vessels should forthwith cease these provocative violations of Singapore sovereignty and return to the status quo ante before October 25, 2018, without prejudice to our respective positions on maritime boundary claims in the area," he added.

“Attempts to create facts on the ground add nothing to Malaysia’s legal case and are unhelpful for an amicable resolution of our maritime boundary issues.”

Dr Balakrishnan said that Singapore remains ready to discuss this issue with Malaysia "in a constructive manner in the spirit of preserving our important bilateral relationship".

Saifuddin said in a Facebook post today that the country has proposed — through the Singaporean High Commissioner in Kuala Lumpur — for both sides to “cease and desist from sending assets into the disputed area” effective midnight on Saturday, pending discussions on outstanding maritime boundary issues.

He also said that 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”.

During the week, both countries have been locked in public disputes over air space and territorial boundaries in Singapore’s waters off Tuas.

The Singapore Government revealed earlier this week that Malaysia had unilaterally extended the Johor Baru port limits on October 25, thereby violating sovereignty and international laws, and it strongly protested the purported move.

It also revealed that ships and vessels from Malaysia have been repeatedly intruding into Singapore’s territorial waters over the past two weeks, including vessels from the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency and Marine Department Malaysia.

Yesterday, Singapore responded by extending its port limits off Tuas, a move that Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said is “well within” Singapore’s territorial waters.

In his latest statement, Saifuddin said that the Malaysian government has communicated to the Government of Singapore, through the Singaporean High Commissioner to Malaysia, its protest to the extension of Singapore’s port limits off Tuas.

The Malaysian government highlighted that this 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 its government gazette published on October 25, so “this is a clear violation of Malaysia’s sovereignty and international law”, he added.

Just hours before this evening, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen had warned Malaysian government vessels to leave Singapore territorial waters, referring to these acts of intrusion as “serious violations of Singapore’s sovereignty”.

“Singaporeans are peace-loving, but I strongly caution violators to leave Singapore territorial waters,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

“For 20 years or more, the Republic of Singapore Navy and Police Coast Guard ships have patrolled our Singapore territorial waters at Tuas. Out of nowhere, Malaysian government vessels now claim these waters as theirs and have been continually intruding since November.”

In total, 14 intrusions have occurred so far, with three Malaysian government vessels seen in Singapore's waters yesterday.

“Our security forces have acted with restraint despite continuing intrusions and provocations,” Dr Ng said in the post, which was accompanied by a video showing naval officers from RSS Independence engaging with a Malaysian government vessel.

His comments echoed what Transport Minister Khaw said the day before when he called Malaysia’s claim to Singapore’s waters a “blatant provocation and a serious violation of our sovereignty and international law”.

Tonight, Minister for Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli also said that the “sudden actions” by Malaysia dampen the spirit of collaboration between both countries, stressing that Singapore will approach the issue “assertively” and “calmly”.

Masagos, who spoke in Malay, said: “The governments of both countries want a positive and building relationship. This is clear in the way we handled the high-speed rail issue recently. In my opinion, I think that the people of both countries want to look forward and leave the past behind.”

Both Singapore and Malaysia can reap “a lot of benefits” if both countries “work together in a sincere and consistent manner,” he added. — TODAY