SINGAPORE: Bilateral relations between Malaysia and Singapore are at a very good level, said Malaysia Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.
He said both governments saw the issues of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) project and the 1962 water agreement as matters that needed to be tackled, but nevertheless should not be obstacles to maintaining good relations.
Saifuddin noted that Malaysia and Singapore wanted to further boost bilateral relations.
Saifuddin was on his first official visit to Singapore at the invitation of his Singaporean counterpart Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.
It was also part of his introductory visits after being sworn in as the new foreign minister on Jul 2.
Saifuddin, who arrived in Singapore on Monday (Jul 30) for a two-day visit, was accompanied by officials from the Malaysian foreign ministry.
READ: Time to ‘put an end’ to politics of race in Malaysia: Foreign minister Saifuddin Abdullah
The minister had, earlier on Monday afternoon, called on President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong after being hosted to a luncheon by Dr Balakrishnan.
According to Saifuddin, the HSR and water issues were raised during his meeting with Dr Balakrishnan and Mr Lee.
“I tried my level best to explain the situation,” he told Bernama.
“We are looking at the big picture … As far as our bilateral relations (are concerned) … our ties are strong and we want to work hard to bring it to greater heights,” said Saifuddin, who was scheduled to call on Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on Tuesday.
HSR DISCUSSIONS WILL TAKE PLACE “VERY SOON”
On the HSR, Saifuddin said he had informed them that on Jul 23, economic affairs minister Mohamed Azmin Ali had written to his Singaporean counterpart saying that he would travel to Singapore to discuss the matter.
“It will take place very soon,” said Saifuddin, adding that, “I stated the fact that we want to sit down and discuss.”
Following the Pakatan Harapan forming the new government in Malaysia after the 14th general election on May 9, Malaysia took a stand to negotiate a deferment of the HSR project with Singapore.
The previous Barisan Nasional government in Malaysia and the Singapore government had agreed to jointly undertake the HSR project, which will cut travelling time between both countries.
PROPOSALS ON THE 1962 WATER AGREEMENT
On the 1962 water agreement, Saifuddin said he had underlined the fact that there could be a review as this was stated in the agreement.
“There is a clause about a review that surely we can look at,” he said, adding he understood that Singapore had its own perspective.
“They brought the issue of water treatment. I think proposals and counter proposals can be brought to the table when we have a proper discussion,” he said.
He said there were discussions in the past but there was no progress.
“Surely we can continue the discussion. The agreement says the content of the agreement can be reviewed after 25 years. It doesn’t mean at 25 years … so we can continue talking,” he added.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has expressed displeasure with the agreement saying it was unfavourable to Malaysia and wanted it renegotiated.
Singapore subsequently said it will fully honour the terms of the 1962 Water Agreement and expects Malaysia to do the same. Speaking in Parliament earlier this month, Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishan reiterated Singapore’s “clear and consistent position” on the issue.
He said the water pact is no ordinary agreement, and is guaranteed by both Singapore and Malaysia in the 1965 Separation Agreement. The Separation Agreement, he added, was in turn registered with the United Nations.
“Any breach of the 1962 Water Agreement would call into question the Separation Agreement, which is the basis for Singapore’s very existence as an independent sovereign state,” he said.
He also said that Malaysia lost its right to review the price of water under the Water Agreement in 1987: “We have made this point publicly on multiple occasions.”
This point was further emphasised on Tuesday, with a statement from Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which said that Singapore’s leaders when meeting with Saifuddin emphasised the importance of abiding strictly by agreements and contracts related to water and the HSR whilst exploring potential new areas of collaboration.
The water issue: What’s at stake and how did we get here? Explore historical footage and documents in our interactive special: http://cna.asia/water