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Dr Balakrishnan at Parliament speaking about the water agreement

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan warns other countries to not take Singapore for granted

Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan warns countries dealing with the Republic to not take Singapore’s consistency, and some would say predictability, for granted.

“We will always take appropriate measures to safeguard our interests. And any country dealing with Singapore must assume that it is cost-free to embark on any adventures or antics against us. There will be consequences,” he said.

Addressing the current Singapore-Malaysia tension over territorial waters and airspace issues at the Parliament on yesterday (14 January), Dr Balakrishnan revealed that this is the reason why Singapore postponed a planned bilateral meeting between National Development Minister Lawrence Wong and Malaysian Minister for Economic Affairs Azmin Ali, as well as officials on both sides.

The Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) for the development of Iskandar Malaysia had been scheduled to meet yesterday.

However, Singapore postponed the meeting after the Johor Menteri Besar Osman Sapian unwelcomely visited a Malaysian vessel in Singapore’s territory on 9 January – which went against the spirit of an agreement concluded by the foreign ministers of both countries just a day earlier.

Dr Balakrishnan noted, “I hope members appreciate this fine line that I’m trying to follow- to be resolute but to be calm, to quietly but clearly protect our interests. And it doesn’t mean we do not have sharp elbows.”

The minister was replying to Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) who, while appraising the Government for taking a calm and sensible approach to the bilateral tensions, was also worried that Malaysia’s actions were not consistent.

Sharing the same sentiment, Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) said that Singapore stays firm each time Malaysia commits a provocative act, to say “don’t do it again”.

However, will there be a time when Singapore will make it clear that any further provocation will be met with an equal reaction, he asked.

Responding to that, he stressed, “I want to clear up this confusion that they are the ones who have the licence to provoke and that we respond but without an equal and opposite response.”

He added,” Red lines are not something you draw lightly and not something which should be pronounce publicly without having carefully thought through all the consequences and without communicating those considerations clearly and unambiguously with the person you are negotiating with or the other side.”

After all, it is Singapore’s reputation for consistency and constancy that adds to its reputation of reliability and integrity.

"Sometimes, it may come across as we are boringly consistent and we seem to studiously avoid chest-thumping and other manifestations of nationalism. But I would submit that this is the appropriate posture for a small tiny nation state like Singapore," he noted.

By remaining calm, the minister says that he can see a way forward to resolve issues.

He went on further and said,” And so long as there is a possibility, a probability of resolving it, then our current tack of making sure the situation remains calm, and that we don’t allow the situation to escalate out of hand into what I described just now as a downward spiral of measure and counter-measures, is still the appropriate thing to do.”

Upon hearing Dr Balakrishnan’s view, many netizens opine that he shouldn't just talk about these things, but rather take an action.

Some even suggested to attack Malaysia as the Johor Menteri Besar had intruded Singapore's waters, ignoring the spirit of agreement that the both countries share.

However, JZ Cai said that on top of all the comments that's condemning the Minister's action, but what solutions and suggestions can netizens provide? "This is not a dispute between 2 people but it is between 2 countries. Hope there will be an amicable solution soon," the Facebook user said.