Ties between Malaysia and Singapore have never been better, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said yesterday, citing trade, investment and tourist figures as proof of the strength of their relationship.
He also said the various agreements that have arisen from the closeness between the two nations bring tangible economic and security benefits to all Malaysians and Singaporeans.
"This should be the priority of national leaders - the people's interests above all else," he said.
Datuk Seri Najib, who is in Singapore for the yearly leaders' retreat with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, was speaking at the annual dinner of the Economic Society of Singapore.
Also at the dinner were his wife Rosmah Mansor as well as PM Lee and his wife Ho Ching.
Mr Najib said the shared history of the last 50 years shows clearly "our two nations are intertwined and, in particular, enjoy very strong people-to-people connectivity".
Indeed, current ties are "so warm... it would be no exaggeration to say they have never been better in our countries' histories", he added.
He said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong had told him at lunch on Monday he had lived in Temerloh, Pahang, as his parents had moved there from Singapore when he was four years old, during the Japanese Occupation.
But Mr Najib noted that as close neighbours, the two countries face challenges in having to manage their differences.
Quoting a Malay proverb "sedangkan lidah lagi tergigit" (Even the tongue gets bitten sometimes), he said: "We are like tongue and teeth. In other words, we are close and need to work together to find positive solutions."
Pointing to the resolution of the Points of Agreement in 2010 after a 20-year deadlock, he said: "It was an example of how we chose to move forward in a spirit of friendship and mutual benefit and put a longstanding stumbling block behind us."
Today, Singapore and Malaysia are each other's second largest trading partner, after China, he noted. Bilateral trade between the two countries totalled RM209 billion (S$77 billion) last year.
"And Singapore remains one of the top investors in Malaysia, with the total value of approved projects last year standing at RM8.3 billion. FDI (foreign direct investment) stock from Singapore alone amounted to RM80.7 billion in 2013," Mr Najib said.
Singaporeans inevitably also top Malaysia's tourist arrival charts, with 13.9 million visits last year. This is an annual increase of 5.7 per cent.
"But we want even more of you to visit, and this year, Tourism Malaysia is hoping we can attract 14.5 million guests from Singapore," Mr Najib said.
As for investments in Malaysia, he said Iskandar Malaysia in southern Johor and Penang have been drawing the bulk of investments from Singapore.
But he welcomed a new trend: "Singaporeans are also beginning to invest in other economic corridors in Malaysia, including Sabah and Sarawak."
Mr Najib also congratulated Singapore on its Golden Jubilee and expressed delight at the clean bill of health received by PM Lee, who had surgery for prostate cancer in February.
He said: "I have a friend who is fighting fit and together we will be able to shape the destinies of our peoples to make our relationship ever more productive, mutually beneficial and forward looking."
This article was first published on May 6, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.