Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has declared that Malaysian vessels will remain present in the maritime territory that has become the subject of contention between Singapore and its northern neighbour.
Speaking at a press conference at the Anti-Corruption Excellence Award at the Malaysian Institute of Integrity in Kuala Lumpur on Monday (Dec 10), Dr Mahathir said: “At the moment, because there is no decision, the vessels are there.”
He added: “Singaporean vessels are there, our vessels are there.”
Stressing that the relationship between Malaysia and Singapore is “good”, the prime minister said: “We will discuss with Singapore. We do not want to argue with Singapore.”
“Sometimes, there are overlapping (boundary) claims and we can solve this with discussions,” he said.
In a press release on the same day, Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it has agreed to Singapore’s “counter-proposed dates” for talks regarding the maritime dispute in January next year.
The statement also read: “While the Government of Malaysia is unable to accede to Singapore’s counter-proposal, Malaysia will take all effective measures to de-escalate the situation on the ground, reaffirming its position to handle the situation in a calm and peaceful manner.”
Previously, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah was quoted as saying by Malaysiakini on Friday (7 Dec) that both nations ought to cease sending vessels into the disputed territory starting midnight as an interim measure to cool the conflict.
Saifuddin also highlighted: “It is the hope of the Malaysian government that the meeting could be convened sometime in the middle of this month.”
Additionally, Malaysia had also sent a protest note against Singapore’s reclamation works off Tuas, as Singapore’s Port Marine Circular No 9 on 6 Dec was “a unilateral port limit extension which encroached on the Johor Bahru port limits indicated under Gazette PU (B) 587 2018 on 25 Oct”.
“The government of Malaysia therefore called upon the government of Singapore to withdraw its Port Marine Circular No 9,” said Saifuddin, as the extension “is a clear violation of Malaysia’s sovereignty and international law.”
The same day, Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen issued a statement via Facebook, accompanied by a video illustrating the supposed intrusions of Malaysian vessels into Singapore’s territorial waters.
Dr Ng wrote: “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.”
“These are serious violations of Singapore’s sovereignty. Our security forces have acted with restraint despite continuing intrusions and provocations. Singaporeans are peace-loving, but I strongly caution violators to leave Singapore territorial waters,” warned Dr Ng.