An article detailing the timeline of bilateral disputes between Singapore and Malaysia titled “Why the Singapore-Malaysia maritime and airspace disputes matter” has received flak from Malaysian netizens for its alleged bias towards Singapore and its poor representation of the current Malaysian administration.
The article, which was originally published on Singapore’s TODAY Online and reproduced on Malaysia’s Malay Mail, made the claim that Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad had “revived” the dispute surrounding the bilateral water agreement, adding that the prime minister indicated that “water prices sold to Singapore should be raised by at least 10 times”.
It added, regarding the “crooked bridge” that is poised to replace the Causeway, that “despite the Republic’s disagreement, Malaysia wanted to go ahead and construct what became known as a “crooked bridge” on its side of the Causeway” under Dr Mahathir’s administration. However, it noted that “Mr Abdullah Badawi, Dr Mahathir’s successor, scrapped the plan in 2006”, and that calls for the project were revived in Oct this year by Johor Chief Minister Osman Sapian, who has proposed it to Dr Mahathir.
The article also touched on the recent territorial disputes: “In October, Malaysia unilaterally extended the Johor Baru port limits, prompting Singapore’s Ministry of Transport to protest the move which it said violates the Republic’s sovereignty and international law.”
“Despite Singapore’s protests, Malaysian vessels have repeatedly intruded the Republic’s territorial waters off Tuas in the last two weeks,” it charged.
Citing the opinions of several observers, the article made the claim that “the incidents over the past months have confirmed that Dr Mahathir’s frosty attitude towards Singapore remains”.
Malaysian netizens have retaliated against the tone of the article:
A Singaporean student of Public Policy and Global Affairs at Nanyang Technological University has also criticised the direction of the article, calling it “significantly misleading” and that it has made the error of “conflating the air and sea issues with each other”.
Ryan Lee argued that “the Malaysian decision to not approve of the ILS approach makes sense” in terms of the development over Pasir Gudang — an argument that was raised by Malaysia’s Transport Minister Anthony Loke in Parliament — as an ILS approach “would entail height restrictions” over the industrial area.
He also argued that the airspace being disputed “has always been Malaysian, with Singapore merely providing air traffic services, since most aircraft out of Changi will need to do an instrument departure into that airspace”.
“This saves pilots the hassle of switching between air traffic controllers while departing,” wrote Mr Lee.
Touching on the maritime dispute, however, he said that “Singapore has a right to protest” in response to Malaysia’s unilateral decision to “release a memo revising boundaries” which has led to “the incursion of Malaysian vessels into Singapore waters”.
Mr Lee also argued that “constantly framing these issues as Mahathir’s “anti-Singaporeanness” doesn’t help anyone”, as “there are underlying rationale for both issues, and they are distinct and separate from each other”.
“Reality is always more boring than myth. And right now, the myth of Singapore sovereignty under siege still reigns supreme,” he concluded.