Transport Minister Khaw welcomes Malaysia's move to pull back two vessels, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Transport Minister Khaw welcomes Malaysia's move to pull back two vessels

This article is more than 12 months old

After Malaysia withdraws two vessels in S'pore waters, Transport Minister urges Malaysia to pull back last remaining ship

Singapore has welcomed Malaysia's moves to defuse tensions between the two countries. Malaysia has withdrawn two vessels that had been in Singapore's territorial waters.

Acknowledging this, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan urged Malaysia to pull back its one remaining ship from Singapore waters, adding that the vessel's presence creates "an unnecessary risk of an accidental escalation on the ground".

This risk is also "not conducive" to the upcoming bilateral talks that the two sides have agreed to hold in the second week of January, Mr Khaw told reporters yesterday.

The dispute flared up after Malaysia unilaterally extended its Johor Baru port boundaries through a gazette on Oct 25, encroaching into Singapore territorial waters west of Tuas.

This was followed by a series of incursions by Malaysian government vessels into the Republic's waters.

Singapore responded by extending its own port limits last Thursday, which Malaysia protested against.

"Neighbours will always have some disputes and it's how you address them (that matters)," Mr Khaw said.

He also said there were "a few inaccuracies" in a video posted online by his Malaysian counterpart Anthony Loke.

The video suggested that height restrictions stemming from new flight procedures would put Pasir Gudang port at risk from pilots coming in to land at Seletar Airport.

Mr Khaw said this was not the case as the new procedures were only a tool to help the pilot, who still retained control of the plane.

After objecting to the Seletar Airport procedures, Malaysia said it wanted to reclaim management of the airspace over Southern Johor, where Singapore has been providing air traffic services since 1974.


Reflecting on the turn of events, Mr Khaw said the transport ministries of both countries have worked together very well for many years.

"And then out of the blue in October, suddenly they started a row, in air, in water - what next? Land transport too? I wonder why," he said.

Mr Khaw cited the manner in which Singapore had handled Malaysia's request to defer the high-speed rail project as an example of how disputes could be resolved.

"We could have taken a completely legalistic approach to the project but we chose not to... However, if you prefer to do something else, then there's a different approach. We have options too," he said.

Asked if next month's talks are conditional on Malaysian vessels pulling out, Mr Khaw said: "We are committed to talks and we will talk, that has always been our attitude."

Meanwhile, Singapore's security agencies continue to patrol the waters and keep a close watch, he said.

Alluding to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's recent comment that Malaysia and Singapore are like a pair of twins except perhaps the elder twin is a little bit bigger than the younger twin and a bit older, Mr Khaw said the analogy was a good one.

But Mr Khaw added: "As twins, we ought to embrace each other and help each other grow, and help each other succeed and celebrate each other's achievements. Then I think it is so much better."