Malaysia, Singapore suspend port limit extensions in bid for resolution

Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah (right) with Singapore Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan at a press conference at Wisma Putra, Putrajaya. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah (right) with Singapore Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan at a press conference at Wisma Putra, Putrajaya. — Picture by Hari Anggara

PUTRAJAYA, Mar 14 — Malaysia and Singapore will both temporarily rescind their respective port limit extensions that triggered a maritime border dispute last year in order to facilitate negotiations for a settlement.

In a joint press conference by Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah and Singapore counterpart Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, both said the suspension was one of five recommendations by the Working Group formed on both sides to resolve the maritime issues. 

“The group’s report also recommended not authorising and suspending all commercial activities in the area, to not anchor government vessels in the area, and for both sides to operate in the area in accordance with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” said Saifuddin. 

He added the fifth recommendation was for a committee chaired by the Malaysian Foreign Affairs secretary-general and the Singaporean Foreign Affairs permanent secretary to determine the boundary delimitation. 

“It will also ensure the first four recommendations are implemented within a month, and those negotiations for maritime boundary delimitation in the area will commence within one month following such implementation,” Saifuddin said. 

Dr Vivian said the measures were taken without prejudice to both countries’ respective maritime boundary claims in the area. 

“In the event that the committee is unable to reach an amicable solution on delimitation, Malaysia and Singapore may mutually agree to resort to an appropriate international third-party dispute settlement procedure on terms to be mutually agreed by the parties,” he said. 

Both men thanked MoFA secretary-general Datuk Seri Muhammad Shahrul Ikram Yaakob and Singaporean Foreign Affairs permanent secretary Chee Wee Kiong for their efforts in preparing the report while heading the working group. 

“These measures demonstrate the commitment of both countries to work together to preserve a strong and positive bilateral relationship on the basis of equality and mutual respect, and to resolve bilateral issues amicably in accordance with international law,” they said. 

The dispute between Malaysia and Singapore over the limits of Johor Bahru’s port limits off Tanjung Piai and the port limits off Tuas has been a long-standing issue as far back as 1979. 

Matters came to a head on October 25 last year when the Attorney General’s Chambers published a document through the Federal Government Gazette that displayed Tanjung Piai’s limits with a significant eastward extension. 

In response on December 6, Singapore extended Tuas’ limits. Its transport minister said the island republic will not hesitate to take “firm action’” to protect its territory and sovereignty. 

Both countries also deployed naval vessels to the disputed waters, with Singapore sending at least one armed littoral mission vessel to stake its claim.

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