Singapore has to “pay the price” for frosty bilateral relations with Malaysia, and the consequences will “cost many times more than the money that we should have spent”, said Singaporean businessman and former Chief Executive Officer of NTUC Income Tan Kin Lian.
In a Facebook post on Friday (7 Dec), Mr Tan wrote, in reference to the recent bilateral disputes over territorial issues and mega infrastructure projects such as the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail: “Some people will argue that we need to be “principled” and to adhere to the rule of law and contractual agreements.”
“I cannot understand why being “principled” should preclude us from being generous in helping someone who needs the help,” he said in reference to the financial difficulties currently faced by the neighbouring nation, following the political upheaval after the 14th Malaysian General Election on 9 May and the transition under the Pakatan Harapan administration.
Disputing the prevailing view amongst certain factions of Singaporeans, as well as certain Singaporean politicians and media outlets, that Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad is “back to his old ways” of adopting a so-called antagonistic approach towards the Republic in terms of diplomacy, Mr Tan argued that the 93-year-old leader “today is quite different from the past”, as he was likely motivated to “come back from retirement to remove a kleptocratic government” instead of doing so out of power-hungry motives.
Mr Tan added: “Malaysia faced financial challenges. His ministers approached Singapore to waive the penalty for the cancellation of the High Speed Rail. We refused. He asked Singapore to pay a higher price for the water. We refused.”
“He came to Singapore during the ASEAN meeting to receive an honorary doctor of law degree (which he does not need). His main purpose was, in my guess, to talk about the price of water,” Mr Tan theorised.
“The meeting concluded with an understanding to continue discussions. We are talking about $15 million a year, not a lot of money,” argued Mr Tan.
He added that he “would certainly have preferred to spend just a few hundred millions to build good relations with Malaysia, especially during their hour of need.”
“Sadly, we did not extend a hand of help. We missed the opportunity to build goodwill,” lamented Mr Tan.
However, he ended his post with an optimistic note, stating that “there is still time” to “change our approach” towards Malaysia.
“I hope that our foreign minister [Vivian Balakrishnan] can play a role in bringing this about. He should not miss this opportunity,” concluded Mr Tan.
Several commenters agreed with Mr Tan’s empathetic approach regarding the issue:
One commenter in particular, however, questioned Mr Tan as to how Singapore did not extend a hand as suggested: