Johor Bahru Chief Minister Osman Sapian and Malaysian government officials aboard the MV Pedoman on 9 Jan. Source: Osman Sapian/Facebook

Johor Chief Minister was cautioned against visiting Johor Bahru port, fearing “counter-productive” outcome to bilateral negotiations with Singapore: Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry

Following Johor Chief Minister Osman Sapian’s controversial visit to the Johor Bahru port on board of Malaysian vessel MV Pedoman earlier this month, Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed that it has advised the Chief Minister to withdraw his plans to visit the port.

The visit, which was deemed by Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs as an “unauthorised visit” to the vessel that was “anchored illegally in Singapore Territorial Waters off Tuas”, was “a provocative act” that “went against the spirit of the agreement reached a day earlier by Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan and his Malaysian counterpart, Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah, to resolve bilateral issues in a calm and constructive manner”.

In a statement on Friday (18 Jan), Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that “it wishes to set the record straight” regarding the contentious issue, and that “upon learning of the planned visit from a Malaysian enforcement agency on the morning of 9 January itself, Ministry officials, under the advice of the Foreign Minister, immediately and repeatedly contacted the Chief Minister’s office and conveyed a message not to proceed with the visit”.

“The Ministry,” it added, “was concerned that such a visit would be counter-productive after the positive and constructive outcome of the bilateral meetings between the Foreign Minister and the Foreign Minister of Singapore just the day before”.

“On 8 January, both Ministers agreed to establish a working group that will study and discuss the legal and operational matters in order to de-escalate the situation on the ground, and to provide a basis for further discussions and negotiations.

However, said Wisma Putra, “the Chief Minister at the time was already onboard a vessel” when contacted and was already “heading towards the Johor Bahru port”.

This led to the Foreign Ministry receiving “a Diplomatic Note from Singapore dated 11 January 2019 protesting his actions, and consequently postponing the 14th meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia (JMCIM), originally scheduled for Monday, 14 January 2019”.

“Regardless of these recent developments, the Ministry wishes to concentrate its efforts on the working group and looks forward to hosting the first meeting at the end of this month, a testament of its commitment to strengthen bilateral relations with Singapore based on equality and mutual respect,” Wisma Putra concluded.

Previously on Sunday (13 Jan), Dato’ Osman defended his visit to the Johor Bahru port, stating on Facebook that “the Singapore government was ‘simply giving an excuse to postpone the upcoming 14th annual meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia (JMCIM)” between the two nations.

Bernama also quoted him as saying that he “had no intention to provoke or to trespass”.

“We can show the plan. The Foreign Minister and Deputy Minister contacted me to ask why I wanted to go. I said if I didn’t, then people will say the MB is not doing anything,” he added.

His defence garnered flak from Malaysians, seeing that it is reasonable for Singapore to interpret his visit as an act of “provocation” in the midst of a delicate and precarious series of negotiations between Malaysia and the Republic:

Social media page SMRT Feedback by The Vigilanteh – which exposed Li Shengwu’s private Facebook post that led to the Attorney-General Chambers prosecution against him – also chimed in with its own take on Dato’ Osman’s statement:

[SMRT Feedback by The Vigilanteh: Osman, why are you finding excuses to blame Singapore? Wasn’t it your boss in Putrajaya who told you not to make the visit, but you went anyway? Now the meeting has been postponed because of you. This meeting is good for the economies of the people of both Singapore and Johor. But you went and sabotaged it. 

[Malay proverb] Whoever eats the chilli, he will bear the heat. It’s not good to slander, you know?]