SINGAPORE (AP) – Singapore’s Foreign Minister warned yesterday of ‘consequences’ if neighbouring Malaysia continues to escalate a dispute over waters claimed by the city state.
Addressing Parliament yesterday, Vivian Balakrishnan reported ‘daily intrusions’ by Malaysian government vessels, which have been in the waters off western Singapore since November last year. He also took issue with a high-profile visit by a Malaysian Menteri Besar, who boarded one of the vessels on January 9.
Balakrishnan said Singapore has protested the visit and called off a joint ministerial meeting in response.
“Our neighbours must not believe that they can take actions without impact, without consequences on themselves,” he said. “And any country dealing with Singapore must not assume that it is cost-free to embark on any adventures or antics against us. There will be consequences.”
Asked to elaborate on the consequences, Balakrishnan said he would not “enumerate them now”.
“We will do so quietly but effectively. It’s the usual Singaporean way. So that’s where we’re at,” he said.
The two countries, which were briefly merged in 1963, are locked in disputes over territorial waters and airspace. They have agreed to try to resolve these peacefully.
Balakrishnan met his Malaysian counterpart, Saifuddin Abdullah, in Singapore last week. They announced a working group on tensions in the waters, which are less than 24 nautical miles, or about 44 kilometres, wide.
A day later, Menteri Besar Osman Sapian of the Johor state near Singapore visited a vessel anchored in the contested waters.
“It undermined the goodwill and trust that is necessary for further cooperation between the two countries, and especially cooperation involving Johor,” Balakrishnan said.
“Could we just let it pass in the name of, well, we just had a successful meeting, we’re getting along … no, the answer is we cannot just let it pass. We had to take action,” he added.
Since Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad returned to power last year, the country has postponed a high-speed rail project that would cut travel time between Singapore and its capital, Kuala Lumpur. Balakrishnan said Malaysia is also pressing to raise the price of water that it supplies to Singapore.
“Let me be very frank, let me emphasise, that I do not expect a quick or smooth resolution to all these issues,” he said.
“In any close relationship with complex historical legacies, problems will arise from time to time. This is to be expected between such close neighbours. The only question is how we approach these problems.”
The city state, which made the leap from colonial port to bustling metropolis, is widely regarded as the smaller but wealthier of the two countries.