First meeting of Working Group on maritime issues surrounding the Johor Bahru Port Limits and Singapore Port Limits

The Malaysia-Singapore Working Group, which was established by the Foreign Ministers of Malaysia and Singapore in relation to maritime issues surrounding the Johor Bahru Port Limits and Singapore Port Limits, had their first meeting on Monday (28 January) in Putrajaya, Malaysia.

The Malaysia-Singapore Working Group established by the Foreign Ministers of Malaysia Saifuddin Abdullah and Singapore Dr Vivian Balakrishnan and was tasked to study and discuss the legal and operational matters in order to de-escalate the situation on the ground and provide a basis for further discussions and negotiations.

The Malaysian and Singapore delegations were led respectively by Dato’ Sri Muhammad Shahrul Ikram Yaakob, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia, and Mr Chee Wee Kiong, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore.

The ministries stated in a joint press release that based on the mandate given by the Foreign Ministers of Malaysia and Singapore during the meeting on 8 January 2019, the two delegations had constructive discussions on a set of positive recommendations which will be submitted to the Foreign Ministers of Malaysia and Singapore for their consideration when finalised.

The maritime dispute sparked since 25 October last year when Malaysia made an unilateral decision to extend the Johor Bahru port limits, and the subsequent intrusion of Malaysian government vessels in Singapore waters, beyond what Malaysia had previously claimed as its own waters in a 1979 map.

Singapore then lodged a strong protest, saying that Malaysia’s extension encroaches into Singapore’s territorial waters off Tuas. Minister of Transport Khaw Boon Wan added that Malaysia’s actions are “a serious violation of Singapore’s sovereignty and international law”.

Malaysia and Singapore are also facing in a dispute over Singapore’s introduction of new landing procedures for Seletar Airport and Malaysia’s subsequent decision to declare a restricted zone over Pasir Gudang for the purpose of military activities.

Singapore and Malaysia had agreed to a one-month suspension of the restricted area over Pasir Gudang and the new Instrument Landing System (ILS) at Seletar Airport on 8 January.

However, Mr Khaw has proposed on 24 January to extend the suspension of the ILS at Seletar Airport until the end of March in order to facilitate negotiations with Malaysia regarding the airspace issue.

He wrote in a Facebook post that he had “suggested that we extend the mutual suspension of Malaysia’s Restricted Area over Pasir Gudang and Singapore’s Instrument Landing System procedures at Seletar Airport, to give our officials more discussion time to reach a win-win outcome”.