The Malaysia and Singapore spat, spar and spur — Rais Hussin

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DECEMBER 9 — No one can ever understand the relationship of Singapore and Malaysia. Why? Both are determined to live and let live yet both are also self-driven creatures “in their own right.”

When Malaysia was granted independent in 1957, our GDP was barely US$57 billion in today’s currency. It is now six times that size.

Singapore, on the other hand, was part of that US$57 billion of Malaya. But when Singapore was expelled by Tunku Abdul Rahman and declared its independence in 1965 —- having first joined Malaysia in 1963 —- it kept growing and growing to a size, at least in GDP, that is somewhat on par with Malaysia now, if not a fraction more.

This is why we need to be blunt, just as Singapore is blunt to us often: without Malaysia providing all forms of auxiliary support, be they passive or active, in terms of stability provisioned, and concepts like Asean Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality, all of which Kishore Mahbubani himself, a Singaporean, ask his country not to take for granted, Singapore would not be where it is.

Thus a small gesture of kindness to Malaysia, even an appreciative word, would be nice. Instead Singapore often takes a holier than thou approach. That only they are right and all else are wrong; including the spar over the 1979 border in 2018.

This leads to another spat: if Singapore, which is merely a speck of the overall size of Malaysia, has reached an economic profile equal if not larger than Malaysia —- why can’t Malaysia consider it as a power with which Putrajaya DOES RESPECT, but demands due privilege (indeed, right) to adjust the price of the water sold to Singapore now?

At 3 sen per gallon, the agreement is not worth even the ink it is written on. The Singapore retort is framed in the legalistic mould: the agreement on water isn’t due until 2061. Now, this is where Singapore needs to smarten up.

Assuming Malaysia agrees in lock, stock, and barrel, that the agreement need not be negotiated until 2061 — essentially adopting, indeed, internalising Singapore’s entire legal logic — wouldn’t that stiff and literal approach also endanger the position of Singapore by 2061 too? Since both would be unyielding by then.

In fact, Singapore hardly mentioned the negative externalities that come from its jet fighting squadrons incurring, even momentarily, into the Johor or Pahang air space.

Malaysia has taken a live and let live approach with Singapore, granted that Malaysia knows that Singapore is smart enough not to spoil for a fight. Thus, Malaysia has hardly ever protested about Singapore’s incursions about its air space.

Thus when Singapore goes all ballistic about the fourteen so called “incursions” of Malaysian patrol boats between October 24 and December 5, with maps to show by the Ministry of Transport, one wonders if Singapore knows Malaysia has been tolerating it ad nauseum? Not in the sea but in the air.

If Malaysia asserts it’s sovereignty and right to self defence, as Singapore Patrol Boats and Navy seem to want to do in the new areas claimed by Malaysia in 2018, Malaysia and Singapore would be having aerial dog fights from 1965 until today.

No one can tell or teach Singapore what to do. From the Ministry of Transport to its Ministry of Defence, Singapore appear ready to push Malaysia back to the de facto lines agreed in 1979.

But one must remember that such assertive actions at sea carry their own demerits: they ruin the spirit of co existence, and peaceful collaboration.

Let’s take intelligence gathering. Although the Communist era is over, wouldn’t Singapore want to know the degree to which Muslim radicals returning from battlefields like Syria and hot spots in the Middle East have been radicalised? One can almost be certain that the Singapore answer is an absolute Yes.

If such be the case, why should Singapore be so hard on any naval intrusions when Malaysia has said little if nothing on Singapore’s aerial incursions?

Better fences do make better neighbours. Even if Malaysia has expanded it’s territorial limits in 2018, these expansions can be contested not necessarily through third person demarche or notes, but one to one high-level task force committees.

In fact, Singapore can have as any more committees as it wants, and Malaysia will reciprocate at the level of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs right up to the Prime Minister.

After all, it has always been customary of Malaysia to seek dialogue and discussion, which is why Malaysia has never gone to war with another country unless it was attacked, as was marked by Konfrontasi in the mid 1960s.

“Jaw jaw is better than war war,” as the late British PM Winston Churchill said. Surely Churchill’s wisdom must be worth it’s grain of wisdom since Malaya and Singapore were once part of the British Empire before they went on separate ways.

When they did, there was no war. In fact, Malaysia practically left Singapore alone to grow into the current size. Even the current Singapore Airline was a break away from the Malaysia Singapore Airlines (MSA). How’s that for sheer indulgence from Malaysia?

Of course, Singapore is at liberty to use a legal and judicial approach in governing it’s bilateral relationship with Malaysia. But what is good for the goose has to be good for the gander too. If Malaysia uses the exact replica of the Singapore approach, Singapore’s airspace would be tied in knots. Any Singapore attempt to build it’s budget airline with Tuas as it’s head quarter and key run way would be thwarted by the Ministry of Transport in Malaysia too on the ground that the noises of the planes taking off and landing would cause unbearable torture on the residents of southern Johor in Malaysia.

All put, there is nothing that Singapore can gain by hardening it’s stance against Malaysia either over wager or maritime boundaries. It helps not to turn a spat into a spar, which repeated often enough, can be a bone spur that presses against the spinal chord of both countries. Then what? Fight and tear at each other’s faces? Singapore and Malaysia both know that wars are meant to make an orphan of all children of their respective populations.

There is nothing to gain by issuing threats to interdict Malaysian ships in Malaysian or Singaporean waters. What Singapore will get is pain by a thousand cuts. But then if Singapore feels that it’s 2019 election is the perfect time to flex it’s muscles, Singapore should know that such naked display of nationalism is bound to make Malaysians willing to do the same. An eye for an eye does make the world go blind.

*This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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