Politicians from both sides of the Johor Straits have been making themselves heard on these recent disputes. And even non-politicians (kind of).
Wife of Singapore's PM, Ho Ching shared an article detailing the strong comments made by Malaysian Politician Dr Rais Hussin towards Singapore on the current maritime dispute with the caption, ‘Chill, man’.
Dr Rais is a supreme council member of PM Mahathir’s party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PBBM). In his comments, he reprimanded Singapore for its stance on the maritime dispute, telling Singapore that it will gain nothing by hardening its stance against its neighbour.
His commentary in the Malaysian news websites of MalaysiaKini and Malay Mail was smarting and tough on Singapore. He said that Singapore often took a holier-than-thou approach which is evident in this current dispute over territorial waters.
Basically, he suggested that Singapore ‘smarten up’ and loosen up instead of taking a hard approach to the issue. He said, “There is nothing to gain by issuing threats to interdict Malaysian ships in Malaysian or Singaporean waters. What they will get is only pain by a thousand cuts.”
Sure, it’s true that Dr Rais’ comments were quite sharp and possibly a little hostile, particularly the quote which Todayonline choose as its headline. But it is quite something to see the First Lady telling the Malaysian politician to ‘chill’ when it’s the Singaporean politicians that have been making alarmist comments relating to the disputes, all hinting at possible military war with Malaysia.
Technically, Dr Rais was asking the Singaporean politicians to ‘chill’. In his article, he addressed all three issues by saying, “all put, there is nothing that Singapore can gain by hardening its stance against Malaysia – either over disputed water, or indeed, disputed waters. It helps not to turn a spat into a spar.“
“Because then what? Fight and tear at each other's faces? Everyone knows that wars are meant to make orphans of children,” he said.
Who needs to chill?
Here’s a little sample of what politicians in both countries have been saying:
Singaporean’s Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan has described Malaysia’s actions in the Johor Straits as aggressive while Speaker of Parliamanent Tan Chuan-Jin urged Singaporeans to psychologically prepare for a possible escalation involving military action.
Minister of Finance Heng Swee Keat described Malaysia’s ‘encroachment’ of Singapore waters as a violation of international law and a violation of Singapore's sovereignty, calling it a serious matter of national interest.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen repeated that statement on his Facebook page, saying "For 20 years or more, the Republic of Singapore Navy and Police Coast Guard ships have patrolled our Singapore Territorial Waters at Tuas. Out of nowhere, Malaysian Government vessels now claim these waters as theirs and have been continually intruding since November". He said that "Singaporeans are peace-loving, but I strongly caution violators to leave Singapore territorial waters."
On top of that, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu added that while the Singapore did not want the situation with Malaysia to happen in the first place, the Republic will take action if necessary. She said, "nobody wants this tension to build up, but where our sovereign rights are affected, we must take the right action."
On the other side of the divide, Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke asserts Malaysia’s claim that the expansion of Johor Bharu port limits does not encroach into Singapore’s territorial waters thus does not violate the agreement between the two countries. He has also indicated that Malaysia is prepared to engage with the Republic to find an amicable solution and suggested that both countries remove assets from the disputed territory while negotiations are underway.
Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has signalled that Malaysia is open to talks on all three of the recent issues (maritime boundary, airspace issue, water agreement) while Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said he hoped the maritime boundary and airspace issue can be negotiated amicably.
Now, while Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said Singapore is ready to negotiate, the Republic isn’t agreeable to removing assets from the disputed territory as suggested by Malaysia. Mr Chan also said that there is still a risk the dispute might escalate.
(Update: The author had mistakenly referred to Mrs Ho Ching as 'Singapore's First Lady'. The error has been corrected).