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Dr Vivian Balakrishnan Image: Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore

Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan urges Malaysia to “cease” encroachment into “Singapore territorial waters”; Malaysia to send protest note to the Republic over unauthorised implementation of instrument landing system near Johor

In order to "avoid escalating tensions on the ground" and in compliance "with international law", Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan has urged Malaysia to "cease" ongoing "provocative intrusions" by the neighbouring nation's vessels into Singapore's maritime territory.

In a press release by Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday (5 Dec), which detailed a phone conversation between Dr Balakrishnan and his Malaysian counterpart Saifuddin Abdullah on the same day, Dr Balakrishnan spoke about "Malaysia’s recent purported extension of the Johor Bahru Port Limits (JPL)", which he claimed has encroached into "Singapore Territorial Waters off Tuas".

Dr Balakrishnan added, according to the statement by MFA, that "the JPL now extends beyond even the limits of Malaysia’s territorial sea claim in the area, as set out in Malaysia’s own 1979 map, which Singapore has never accepted".

Berita Harian Online, a Malay-medium mainstream Malaysian news outlet, reported on Wednesday (5 Dec) that Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has given the assurance that the JPL does not trespass or encroach into Singapore's maritime borders in Tuas.

He added that Malaysia will ensure that the port's expansion will be carried out at the nation's borders, and that the borders can be measured to verify the accusations made by Singapore.

In MFA's press release, it was also stated that Dr Balakrishnan "also referred to the discussions on airspace issues between Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan and Malaysian Minister of Transport Anthony Loke Siew Fook, as well as Minister Loke’s public comments on the issue."

"Minister Balakrishnan emphasised that Singapore respected Malaysia’s sovereignty," stated the press release.

The Foreign Affairs Minister added, according to the statement by MFA, that "it was in the interest of both countries to ensure the safety of civil aviation over our skies", and that "any proposal should ensure that the safety and efficiency of civilian air traffic was not compromised, and remained in accordance with ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organisation] standards, processes, and procedures".

Dr Balakrishnan was also quoted by MFA as saying that "Singapore and Malaysia should continue to discuss these issues constructively", and that he "emphasised the importance of maintaining a good bilateral relationship between close neighbours and compliance with international law".

Meanwhile, Malaysian daily Malay Mail reported that the Malaysian government, in a bid to reclaim the nation's airspace between next year and 2023, will be sending a protest note to the Republic over Singapore's decision to operate its instrument landing system (ILS) for the Seletar Airport near the border with Johor despite Malaysia's protests.

Mr Loke was reported as saying in Parliament on Monday (3 Dec) that Putrajaya has prohibited Singapore from broadcasting the new ILS at the end of last month to "protect the sovereignty of airspace and development around Pasir Gudang in Johor."

He added that Singapore had already broadcasted the ILS on 1 Dec and has planned to fully implement the system early next month without seeking the agreement of the Malaysian government, adding that the implementation of the ILS without Malaysia's permission violates the principle of national sovereignty as accorded under the Convention of Civil Aviation 1944.

Malaysia has been granting Singapore permission to use the delegated airspace in southern Johor since 1974.