Ex-Singapore diplomat takes dig at Saifuddin over dispute de-escalation plan

Accusing Malaysia of creating the problem over territorial intrusions, Bilahari Kausikan mockingly said Putrajaya now wants Singapore to share responsibility for the problem.

KUALA LUMPUR: Former Singapore diplomat Bilahari Kausikan today took a dig at Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah over his proposal to lower tensions between the neighbours.

Accusing Malaysia of creating the problem over territorial intrusions, he mockingly said Putrajaya now wanted Singapore to share responsibility for the problem.

He said in a Facebook post: “You have to admire the Malaysian foreign minister’s ctuzpah: You create a problem, when we respond to defend our interests, you say that the solution to the problem you created in the first place is for us to cease defending our interests and to accept equal responsibility for the problem. Sorry bro. Good try, but no cigar. We are not stupid.”

He was referring to the proposal by Saifuddin that both countries cease sending assets into the disputed area effective today (Saturday), pending discussions on outstanding maritime boundary issues.

“The action to desist would be undertaken without prejudice to either Malaysia or Singapore’s position on maritime boundary claims over the area in question,” Saifuddin had said.

Singapore, however, rejected the proposal, saying the Malaysian government vessels should first cease “provocative violations of Singapore sovereignty and return to the status quo before Oct 25”. It added that it was willing to discuss the matter “in a constructive manner in the spirit of preserving our important bilateral relationship”.

Earlier this month, Putrajaya extended the Johor Bahru Port Limits and informed mariners of the change. This angered Singapore, which said Malaysia had extended the limits unilaterally and that Malaysian vessels were now encroaching onto its waters.

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad shot back saying Malaysia was within its rights to extend the Johor Bahru Port Limits, and that it had not trespassed onto Singapore’s territorial waters.

But in a tit-for-tat move, the island republic said it had decided to extend the Singapore Port Limits off Tuas effective Dec 6. This extension, which tracks the eastern boundary of the 1999 Johor Bahru Port Limits, was well within Singapore’s territorial waters, it added.

Malaysia has protested this move.

Bilahari who was once ambassador-at-large and permanent secretary of Singapore’s foreign ministry, had in an earlier Facebook post said Singapore was being “used as a bogeyman” due to the political uncertainty in Malaysia following the May 9 polls.

“The new governing coalition is intrinsically unstable, and held together by a 93-year-old man. Political uncertainty in Malaysia inevitably leads to Singapore being used as a bogeyman to hold things together.”