SINGAPORE - Issues with Malaysia will be dealt with "calmly and constructively" by Singapore, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
In his New Year Message released on Monday (Dec 31), PM Lee spoke about Singapore on the international stage, domestic issues and leadership transition.
On international relations, he noted that, closer to home, Singapore has been tending relations with its immediate neighbours.
Relations with Indonesia have been positive, with significant cooperation and investments flowing in both directions, he said.
On Malaysia, he noted that it formed a new government following elections in May.
"We hope to maintain a constructive partnership with Malaysia, and look forward to the new leaders on both sides developing good working relations with one another," he said.
Nevertheless, several issues have recently arisen between the countries, "as they will from time to time between two close neighbours tightly bound by history, economics, culture and kinship".
"When Malaysia wanted to defer the High Speed Rail project, Singapore worked with them to accommodate their needs," he said.
"The new disputes on maritime boundaries, following provocative intrusions into our territorial waters, and on airspace, particularly the Instrument Landing System (ILS) rules for Seletar Airport, are more difficult to resolve. Malaysia also wants to revise the price of Johor water, an old issue recently revived, on which Singapore's stand is quite clear."
PM Lee said: "We will deal with all these matters calmly and constructively. Singapore and Malaysia must manage specific problems, however difficult, while preserving the overall relationship. The way to do so is through equality and mutual respect, upholding international commitments and the rule of law."
He added: "Older Singaporeans will remember that this is how we dealt with previous rough patches in bilateral relations. Each time we would unite as one people, and stand our ground calmly but firmly. I am confident that this time too Singaporeans will work closely together to keep relations with Malaysia stable, and a new generation will learn how to collectively protect our vital interests while living in peace and friendship with our neighbours."
Bilateral relations have been tense since the election in May 2018 of a new Malaysian government led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
In May, Dr Mahathir said that he was dropping plans for the high-speed rail link between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Both sides subsequently signed a deal to suspend the project up to May 31, 2020, with Malaysia agreeing to reimburse Singapore $15 million for the deferment. Singapore had spent $250 million on the project by the end of May.
In June, Dr Mahathir said that the price of raw water sold to Singapore is "ridiculous" and that Malaysia will approach Singapore to renegotiate the terms of the agreement. Singapore's stance is that in 1987, Malaysia lost its right to review the price under the 1962 Water Agreement when it chose not to do so.
On Oct 25, Kuala Lumpur unilaterally extended the Johor Baru port limits that they encroached on Singapore's territorial waters off Tuas. Singapore has taken steps to ensure that no countrywould be able to unilaterally initiate third-party arbitration or adjudication on maritime boundary disputes against the Republic.
Malaysia also recently protested new flight procedures that Singapore is planning to implement at Seletar Airport next year, claiming they will stunt development in Johor's Pasir Gudang area. Experts have weighed in to say that the changes will not affect the current height restrictions for planes coming in, and that it will also not hamper the development of Pasir Gudang Port.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.