Singapore is being used as a scapegoat to divert attention from political infighting among parties within the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, said Singapore’s former Ambassador-at-Large Bilahari Kausikan, in reference to the heightened tensions between Malaysia and Singapore in the recent months since the coalition came to power on 9 May last year.
The Malaysian Insight reported Mr Kausikan as saying in a public lecture at the National University of Singapore on Friday (22 Feb) that “old bilateral issues almost immediately resurfaced” following PH’s takeover, as observed in the maritime dispute in the area off Tuas, the issues related to the implementation of the Instrument Landing System from Seletar Airport, and more recently, negotiations regarding the price of water being sold to Malaysia, which Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad previously described as “unreasonable”.
Mr Kausikan said in his lecture on Singapore’s relations with Indonesia and Malaysia that such issues “are not new and they cannot be resolved”.
“To resolve an issue, both sides must want to resolve it. Whereas in this case, the other side’s interest is to keep them alive to use them to rally support.
“It would be wrong to place too much emphasis on the personality of (Prime Minister) Dr Mahathir (Mohamad) although that was undoubtedly a factor,” he warned.
“More importantly, the new Pakatan Harapan government is fundamentally incoherent,” posited Mr Kausikan, adding that PH is “falling apart”. said Mr Kausikan.
Citing a Merdeka Centre research last year, Mr Kausikan highlighted that the findings revealed “a three-way split of Malay votes for PH, Umno and Islamist party PAS”, which indicates a strong rivalry between the three factions that are central to the political leanings of many of Malaysia’s majority race.
The divisions, cautioned Mr Kausikan, will grow further as PH attempts to rope in greater and stronger support from the Malays in a bid to stay in power in the following term.
“Using Singapore as a bogeyman or whipping boy to rally the Malay ground is a time-tested tactic,” he said, adding that “Dr Mahathir used it when he led Umno”, and is now using the same tactic “now that he is head of Bersatu”.
“This is not just a matter of personality or historical baggage,” argued Mr Kausikan.
“Diplomacy is not just about being nice”; crucial to establish “red lines” and to use threat of force where necessary: Bilahari Kausikan
In his speech, Mr Kausikan also stressed the need to stand firmly with the Republic’s military capacity in the face of an increasingly hostile northern neighbour such as Malaysia.
“Even though Singapore is now accepted as a sovereign state, it is not a situation which Malaysia is entirely comfortable with.
“Today, the governments of our neighbours deal with Singapore as a sovereign nation only because we have developed capabilities that have given them no other choice.
“It is not their preferred way of dealing with a small, ethnic Chinese-majority city-state … They would prefer us to accept a subordinate role as do their own Chinese populations,” argued Mr Kausikan.
“The basic and enduring issue is not what we do, but what we are – a multiracial, meritocratic small city state that performs better than they do and we must always perform better.
“The very existence of our dramatically very different system, too close to be ignored or disregarded, that does better than their system, poses an implicit criticism of their system to their own people,” Mr Kausikan observed.
Consequently, he suggested that Singapore ought to be ready to deploy military force against Malaysia should the perceived threats persist against the island-state.
“The threat of use of force is as much part of diplomacy as negotiations. Diplomacy is not just about being nice … It is essential to establish red lines because it is only when red lines are clearly understood that mutual relations can be conducted on the basis of mutual respect,” concluded Mr Kausikan.
TOC has reached out to the coalition’s representatives, as well as Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comments on Mr Kausikan’s statements. Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah is the chief secretary of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, a component party of the PH coalition.