Building a relationship of trust and friendship

by Tan Kin Lian

Straits Times Editor-At-Large, Han Fook Kwong wrote an article in the Sunday Times: "Time for Singapore and Malaysia to discard old stereotypes".

He wrote, "KL's moves since May 9 polls raise hopes that the country will become a more just soceity based on rules of law. In the long term, a Malaysia that is doing well, is stable and democratic and governed by competent people based on the rule of law is good for Singapore. A Malaysia that is divided, full of racial tension and always on the verge of the next political crisis is bad for Singapore."

I agree with Han Fook Kwong. Wholeheartedly.

The building of a relationship based on trust and friendship with the new government in Malaysia can start with a phone call.

It will be a call made by our finance minister Heng Swee Keat to his counterpart in Malaysia, Mr. Lim Guan Eng. Mr. Lim had said in an interview with Channel New Asia that he hope Singapore can help Malaysia to cope with debt.

Mr. Heng can ask - how can Singapore help?

Mr. Lim will probably bring up three areas:

a) Can Singapore waive the penalty of 500 million ringgit (SGD 150 million) for the cancelation or deferment of High Speed Rail?
b) Can Singapore return the CPF savings of Malaysians who have returned to work in Malaysia?
c) Can Singapore give a long-term loan to Malaysia on favorable terms of repayment.

If I were the finance minister of Singapore, I would agree to the first two requests. They will not be costly to Singapore. It will be helpful to Malaysia and can be the start of a relationship based on trust and friendship.

However, I would not be able to agree on my own. I will suggest to Mr. Lim that Dr. Mahathir can call Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to confirm the agreement.

There will be no need for any "package deal" for these two items. The agreement will be based on trust and friendship.

If Malaysia needs Singapore to help with the third item, the discussion will be more difficult. What is the favorable term that Malaysia would like to have and how much will it cost Singapore?

Would Malaysia be prepared to offer some benefit to Singapore in exchange - such as the extension of the water agreement, the sale of sand and use of airspace?

But I would decouple this difficult discussion from the earlier items that are not costly, and would help to build a good relationship.

What are your views?