Singapore, Malaysia committed to strengthening ties

S'pore postpones annual bilateral meeting

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said yesterday that it welcomed Malaysian Economic Affairs Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali's initiative to visit Singapore, despite the postponement of an annual bilateral meeting due to a "provocative act" by the chief minister of Johor.

Mr Azmin began a two-day visit yesterday that is set to include meetings with Singapore's National Development Minister Lawrence Wong and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

Responding to media queries yesterday, MFA revealed that it had sent a protest note to the Malaysian government on Friday and reiterated its rationale for putting off the Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia (JMCIM), originally scheduled for today.

"Singapore sent a diplomatic note to Malaysia on Jan 11, 2019, to protest the unauthorised visit by Johor Menteri Besar Dato' Osman Sapian on Jan 9, 2019, to Marine Department Malaysia vessel Pedoman, which was anchored illegally in Singapore territorial waters off Tuas," it said.

"Such a provocative act went against the spirit of the agreement reached a day earlier by Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, and his Malaysian counterpart, Dato' Saifuddin Abdullah, to resolve bilateral issues in a calm and constructive manner."

It added that the intrusion created an atmosphere "unconducive" for holding the meeting, which led to a decision by Singapore - agreed to by Malaysia - to postpone it.

"Nevertheless, Singapore welcomes Malaysia's Minister of Economic Affairs Dato' Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali's initiative to make a bilateral visit and his upcoming meetings with our ministers on Jan 13 to 14," the ministry said.

Earlier yesterday, the Malaysian Foreign Ministry had released its own statement, expressing its confidence in the current momentum of engagement between Malaysia and Singapore and stressing that it is committed to strengthening bilateral ties with the Republic.

Malaysia said the planned alternative meeting between ministers "demonstrates that ties between the two countries remain strong".

The meeting will form "the next positive step forward after the fruitful bilateral meeting" held between the foreign ministers of Malaysia and Singapore on Jan 8, the statement added.

But amid the niceties was also a rephrasing of the content of Singapore's diplomatic note to imply that the Johor chief minister had not intruded.

It said: "The reason for the postponement, as conveyed by Singapore vide a diplomatic note dated Jan 11, 2019, was due to the visit by YAB Dato' Osman Sapian, the Chief Minister of Johor, to Johor Baru port in Malaysian territorial waters on Jan 9."