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9th Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat 2019

PM Mahathir: Ladies and gentlemen of the press. I would like to relate about the discussion that we had, between the Prime Minister and I. In the first place, of the 4-eye meeting, followed by a delegation meeting. PM Lee and I had a very productive discussion this morning. We spoke about Malaysia-Singapore bilateral relations and how to preserve and improve it. We spoke about the ongoing cooperation, including prospects to strengthen economy and trade ties. We also spoke in detail about unresolved bilateral issues. Our discussion included issues concerning maritime boundary, airspace, cross-border railway projects congestion at Malaysia-Singapore border, and the 1962 Johor River Water Agreement. We agreed that the fundamental principle is to resolve issues of concern in a friendly and constructive manner and work towards amicable solutions. We acknowledge the hard work of our ministers and officials in these past months to find the ways forward to these issues. We have managed to resolve some of the immediate issues and we move forward now to find long-term sustainable solutions to these issues. The Malaysia Singapore maritime boundaries. We have also made progress by implementing the recommendations of the Singapore-Malaysia working group, which includes the suspension of the implementation of the Johor Bahru Port limits of Tanjung Piai and Singapore Port limits of Tuas. As the saying goes, “Good fences make good neighbours.” We will now proceed to maritime boundary delimitation in the area. A new committee will be established for this purpose and will commence by next month. Ultimately, Malaysia believes it is important to delimit all outstanding maritime boundaries
between Malaysia and Singapore and not only to delimit the area surrounding the port limits. It should be for the whole boundary. Airspace issues. Malaysia and Singapore have a long history of aviation cooperation. We are also members of the International Civil Aviation Organization and continue to work together at this international platform for mutual interest. In the spirit of bilateral cooperation, both Ministers of Transport managed to reach an understanding on certain airspace issues, and a joint statement was issued on the 6th of April 2019, highlighting among others, the agreement for Singapore to withdraw the Instrument Landing System for Seletar Airport and for Malaysia to suspend the permanent restricted area over Pasir Gudang airspace indefinitely. The high-level committee to review the operational Letter of Agreement between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore area control centres concerning Singapore arrivals, departures, and overflights signed in 1974, has already commenced discussion. Malaysia’s objective is to take back the dedicated airspace from Singapore in the area concerned in stages. Malaysia aims to do this within the timeframe beginning the end of 2019 to 2223. It is important to note that the LOA 1974 was signed when KL flight information region was in its infancy. At that time, air navigation facilities in Malaysia were not adequate. ICAO recommended that air traffic services in the area concerned be delegated to Singapore. We have made significant investments in preparation to take back the said delegated airspace and hope that this can be done expeditiously. Now the review of the 1962 Johor River Water Agreement. Malaysia and Singapore had obligations under the 1962 Johor River Water Agreement. For Malaysia, resolving the long-standing issues of water price review is a priority. We are engaged in active negotiations on the review in the late 90s and early 2000s. PM Lee and I have agreed to find amicable solutions on this issue, including the possibility of dispute resolution through arbitration on a mutually agreed basis. Cross-border Railway Projects. There is significant economic benefit to enhancing public transport connectivity within both countries. However projects have to be feasible and sustainable. It is the Government of Malaysia’s priority to reduce the country’s debt and to ensure an economically viable project which is able to generate an acceptable rate of return. For that reason, both sides on the 5th September 2018 agreed to suspend the KL-Singapore high-speed rail project. Currently, Malaysia is exploring proposals with the aim of cost reduction and we will discuss this further with Singapore before the end of the suspension period, 31st May 2020 On the Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System link project. Singapore is willing to consider suspension of the project. Malaysia is also looking at affordable and sustainable affirmative alternatives to the RTS Rail Link. Elevating congestion at the Malaysia-Singapore border. Traffic congestion at the Causeway and 2nd Link remains a major problem for Malaysia and Singapore commuters. Currently about 250,000 to 300,000 people are crossing the Causeway on a daily basis. Resolving congestion is a priority for Malaysia. Both sides are committed to address this issue and will continue to explore new initiatives to tackle this problem. This may include improvement in physical
infrastructure, review of inter-boundary policies and regulations, and improvement in the quality of cross-border services, the ICQ. In conclusion, Malaysia and Singapore will continue the momentum of positive engagement including through the important platform of the Leaders’ Retreat. In addition to that, I would like to say that I was invited by PM Lee to attend the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the founding of Singapore and I have very gladly accepted. Thank you Announcer: Thank you, Tun, for your statement. I now have the honour to invite His Excellency Mr Lee Hsien Loong to deliver his statement. PM Lee: Thank you, Tun Mahathir and ladies and gentlemen I would like to thank the PM and the Malaysian Government for their very warm hospitality on this our first bilateral Leaders’ Retreat together. Our relationship between the two countries is rooted in long history and strong family and business ties. This has remained unchanged even with a new Malaysian Government. We have worked hard to strengthen these ties and to overcome issues which have arisen. For example, when Malaysia informed us of their wish to review the KL-Singapore high-speed rail, we worked out a suspension arrangement together. Today the PM and I affirmed our commitment to a cooperative and forward-looking bilateral relationship. We also addressed current bilateral issues, including maritime boundaries and air space. On maritime boundaries, we have made progress to de-escalate the situation at sea and avoid further incidents. The two foreign ministers agreed to implement several measures, and this has been done. With this implementation, we are commencing negotiations on the boundary to delimitation within the month. Airspace – Malaysia has suspended its restricted area over Pasir Gudang, while Singapore has withdrawn the Instrument Landing System procedures at Seletar Airport. This clears the way for Malaysia’s Firefly Airline to start services to Seletar Airport which I understand, the inaugural flight will be on 21st April. Malaysia has also stated its intention to review the existing arrangements for air traffic services provision over southern Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore is ready to discuss this matter with Malaysia. The key considerations are the safety and efficiency of air traffic operations and the needs and interests of both countries. I told Dr Mahathir this is a complex matter that will involve consulting many stakeholders, including airlines and ICAO, and it cannot easily be rushed. Civil aviation is growing rapidly in both countries. KLIA and Changi have both become major regional airports, each serving more than 16 million passengers a year. The volume will grow, and as I told the ministers, I think KLIA has greater capacity to grow than Changi. Changi is building a third runway and I think that is the limit. Whereas KLIA already has 3 runways and has space to build 5. So what we have will grow and it is important for both countries that this growth be facilitated and be able to take place safely and that is in both countries’ interests. Therefore we will work with Malaysia to review the airspace delegation arrangements with this in mind. I also discussed with Tun Mahathir the issue of water. He had raised this with me last November and our respective positions are well-known. Singapore’s position is that Malaysia has lost its right to review the water price but we agreed last November that our two Attorney-Generals would meet to understand each other’s legal positions This time I told Dr. M that the Attorney-Generals have met and they will continue meeting and I think they will make progress. But Singapore’s point of view there are 2 concerns that we have concerning Johor water. Firstly, pollution. Just last week the PUB waterworks at Kota Tinggi had to shut shut down because of high ammonia levels. The source was traced to a palm oil mill in Sedenak, in the catchment area. If Johor River suffers an incident like that, which happened in Sungei Kim Kim recently, I think it will be disastrous for both countries. So that is one concern we have. The other concern is the long term
sustainable yield of the Johor River. Johor has built water plants on the river, upstream of PUB waterworks at Kota Tinggi. One is Loji Air, the other one is the Semangar water treatment plant. These plants combined, plus the Kota Tinggi waterworks belonging to PUB, draw from the Johor River, quite possibly more water than the river can sustain . So we need to study how to meet both Johor and Singapore’s water requirements for the remainder of the Water Agreement. It is in both countries’ interests to work together to ensure sustainable water supply for both sides because this will reduce the potential for conflict between the two countries. We agreed that the 2 AGs will continue their dialogue their dialogue to understand each other’s perspectives and concerns. Dr Mahathir said he had also asked Minister Saifuddin to be responsible for this matter on the Malaysian side and I said my Foreign Minister Vivian will discuss this matter with Minister Saifuddin. Tun Mahathir and I also discussed our ongoing connectivity projects on the RTS link. Minister Anthony Loke has told Mr Khaw Boon Wan that while Malaysia still supports such a link they wish to request to suspend the project for 6 months to assess their options. I understand Malaysia’s position. We have tasked our AGs to work out a supplemental agreement, quickly to give effect to the suspension, similar to what we did for the HSR suspension last year. We also discussed a broader question of congestion at the Causeway and as Dr Mahathir pointed out the RTS link will not solve the problem of motorcyclists who come into Singapore. I said yes, we have to expand the capacity of the CIQs on both sides to process the people who are crossing because the numbers will grow. Singapore has plans to expand our CIQ further. These are things which will take some time but they will eventually make a significant dent in the problem. For the HSR, the suspension agreement runs until May next year Singapore continues to see this as a good project but we understand why Malaysia needs time to review the costs and the alternative options and we look forward to receiving a proposal from Malaysia soon so as to be able to work with them to find a way forward that will work for both countries. Beyond these topical bilateral issues, the broader Singapore Malaysia relationship continues to grow. We are each other’s 2nd largest trading partner. Our ties between business communities remain strong. The Singapore Manufacturing Federation is renewing its MOU of collaboration with the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers. The Joint Ministerial Committee on Iskandar Malaysia, chaired by Minister Azmin Ali and Minister Lawrence Wong, are working to further cooperation on multiple fronts. As close neighbours Singapore and Malaysia must expect issues to arise between us from time to time. But provided we can address them in a constructive spirit, we can manage the problems, contain the side effects, and work towards win-win outcomes. So I would like to thank PM Mahathir again for his warm hospitality. This year Singapore’s commemorating our Bicentennial. It is 200 years since Sir Stamford Raffles landed in Singapore and the history of modern Singapore began. We will be holding a special National Day Parade at the Padang. I am very glad that Tun Mahathir and Tun Siti Hasmah have accepted my invitation to visit Singapore on 9th August of August for our National Day Parade. Thank you very much. Announcer: Thank you, Your Excellency, for your statement. Now ladies and gentlemen, members of the media, the floor is now open for Q&A session. We will begin with the first question from Mediacorp Singapore, please. CNA: Good afternoon Prime Ministers, I’m Afifah from CNA. This question is for Tun, Singapore and Malaysia have had more than 50 ministerial visits in the last year and this is the first retreat between Singapore and the new Pakatan Harapan government. How do you see ties developing even further during your current term? Thank you. PM Mahathir: Ties between Singapore and Malaysia have always been good, at least we are always on talking terms. If we have problems, we air our problems, sometimes publicly, sometimes privately. What we have not done is that we have not confronted each other, or even suggest that we should resolve our problem through violent action, like going to war with Singapore. This is not a minor achievement. If you look throughout the world, most countries with problems with their neighbours try to solve their problems through violence and through wars. In the end, both sides will lose. That is our relation with Singapore. It is a relation between, I think, 2 civilised people who do not believe in violence. PM Lee: I should add that, as 2 close neighbours, we have worked very hard to develop and manage this relationship. We have become different over the years, especially after 1965, the societies have evolved in different directions. The political systems have developed differently. But if you look at it within ASEAN’s context, or within a global context, in fact, Singapore and Malaysia are very similar countries. In terms of heritage, in terms of our rule of law, in terms of the connections we have with one another, and the comfort we have with one another, we even argue who invented some of our foods first. So, there is an enormous overlap. Therefore, there is a tremendous potential for us to move ahead in a cooperative and mutually beneficial way, provided we work at the relationship and understand where you get the best satay, whether it is the Esplanade, Gardens by the Bay, or whether you can get it at Satay Majid or Satay Kajang, or something like that. Announcer: Thank you, Excellencies. So next question we have from Media Prima Malaysia. Media Prima: Good afternoon. My name is Wan Zarul Azri from Media Prima. To Mr Lee, does Singapore view Malaysia’s requests for the water agreement revision as reasonable, and how much is the reasonable price do you think? PM Lee: Well, whether I answer the second question depends on the answer to the first question. I told Dr Mahathir, I can understand his perspective, why he sees a political necessity to ask, to press hard for a water price revision. But I also explained to Dr Mahathir to see it from Singapore’s point of view, that this was an agreement reached between the 2 water authorities – PUB on Singapore side, and in those days, I think it was a Johor water department, now it has become Bakaj, in 1962; and subsequently guaranteed by the 2governments – at the federal level, and in Singapore at the national level; in 1965, in the Separation Agreement. So it is a fundamental founding document for us, and we have to go according to this document. It is a basic term on which the 2 countries decided to manage our relationships. So if you look at it, from that point of view, to be able to change that, is a very high hurdle. Because the first Prime Minister who signed it did not change it. The second Prime Minister who negotiated a package deal with Malaysia, in the end, there was no final agreement, and the agreement – the water price was not changed. So now I can understand Dr Mahathir’s perspective, but I also asked him, I hope that he will be able to see Singapore’s perspective, why this is such a sacrosanct item. And therefore, let us try to find a way forward which enables us to talk constructively about this issue, and hopefully be able to make some progress. One of the items we also have to talk about is the security of the supply of the water from Johor, including the pollution and including the yield, to make sure that in fact Singapore is able to get the 250 million gallons, which is what is specified under the Water Agreement. So on that basis, the ministers will talk. I think to ask me what is a reasonable water price now, is to prejudge the question. Announcer: Thank you, Excellency. Now for our third question, can we have Berita Harian Singapore? Berita Harian: Good afternoon PM. Norhaiza Hashim from Berita Harian in Singapore. With the overlapping port limit having been suspended, when do you expect the maritime boundary delimitation in the area to begin and which agencies will do the negotiation? PM Lee: I think the committee has been formed, the agreement is to begin within a month. I do not know exactly which agencies but I am sure MFA will be involved, Ministry of Law will be involved, Maritime Port Authority certainly will be involved, Attorney-General’s Chambers will certainly be involved, whichever ministries need to be there, will be there. And on the Malaysian side, I am sure they will more than match us. Announce: Thank you, Excellency, we have one more question, AFP. AFP: Good evening, sir. Do you think the recent maritime and airspace disputes will have a lasting damage on ties between the 2 countries? And do you see ties improving after today’s meeting? PM Lee: It depends on how they are managed. These are continuing issues because we will always have maritime boundaries with each other. We will always have civil aviation needs in both countries, there is also a need to agree on arrangements for managing the air space. So, if it is managed well, then it can be productive for both countries and the overall relationship can prosper. If it is not managed well, it can cause a lot of trouble and poison the overall relationship. And it is because I was worried that things were not going in the right direction, that was the reason why in December, I wrote a letter to Dr Mahathir and asked DPM Teo to come to visit Putrajaya together with Minister Heng Swee Keat, to deliver the letter and to explain to Dr Mahathir in person, what my concerns were. And I am very happy that Dr Mahathir gave them a hearing, took in what they said and took action on the Malaysian side, which enabled our ministers to meet their ministers and to turn things around gradually to bring them to where we are today. So, we have now as T. S. Eliot says, “We have come back to our starting place, and we are recognising it for the first time.” Announcer: Thank you, Excellency. Can we have one last question, and hopefully we can address it to both premiers. Do we have Malaysiakini? Malaysiakini: Hi, Annabelle from Malaysiakini here. This question is for both prime ministers, maybe. Singapore’s new protection from the Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill has gotten international criticism. I mean, Reporters Without Borders has said that the law censors internet users and gives a large amount of discretionary power to the government. Malaysia is moving in the opposite direction with the Anti-Fake News Act. To the Singaporean Prime Minister, what is your response to concerns about this Bill? PM Lee: I am not familiar with the details of the Malaysian Anti-Fake News Act but would be surprised if it is the same provision as what is now POFMA – Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act. This is a problem – the problem of fake news of deliberate false statements being proliferated online – is a serious problem which confronts many countries. Singapore is not the only one who is legislating on this issue. The French have done so, the Germans have done so, the Australians have just done something similar and very draconian. The British are thinking of doing things as well. So Singapore has had to do it and we have had a long process of the Select Committee, publish a report. We have deliberated on this for almost two years now. Well, the Select Committee was last year, but we started thinking about it even long before that. And finally we have got this bill. It is going to be debated in the House and I hope eventually, it will become legislation. So I am not surprised that Reporters Without Borders criticised it. They criticise many things about Singapore’s media management but what we have done has worked for Singapore, and is our objective to continue to do things which will work for Singapore. And I think POFMA will be a significant step forward in this regard. PM Mahathir: Well, in the case of Malaysia, we have made a promise that we will do away with the Anti-Fake News rule. That is because this is what the people want and we respect the people who actually voted us into power. On the other hand, of course, we know that the present social media can be abused quite seriously. For us, that means that we have to learn how to handle such fake news but when we have a law that prevents people from airing their views, then we are afraid that the government itself may abuse the law, like what has happened in the last government. We do not want any government – this one and succeeding ones – to make use of the law in order to tell fake news, the government itself to create fake news in order to sustain themselves. But of course, it will be difficult to handle. But we believe that we can accept the challenges and we can handle them. Announcer: Thank you, Tun, thank you Excellency. Now ladies and gentlemen, that concludes today’s joint press conference. We thank you for your participation.


  1. piconico
    piconico April 9, 2019

    even from at home, i can feel that i am in there … Glad to watch this πŸ™‚

  2. Theophilus Thomas
    Theophilus Thomas April 9, 2019


  3. Me Win
    Me Win April 9, 2019

    LHL articulated all the issues so well. My only question is can our next PM be as good as him. It is a big shoe to fill.

  4. eddy aidil mohd noh
    eddy aidil mohd noh April 9, 2019

    war with singapore…..woohhooooo

  5. Dereklkz Lee
    Dereklkz Lee April 10, 2019

    Pity for Malaysia government, wasted one whole year to concentrates on Singapore. The government neglected their country's economics problems.

  6. edmundkhor
    edmundkhor April 10, 2019

    Tun still so fit at age 93!

  7. Erman Johari
    Erman Johari April 13, 2019


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