Malaysia-S’pore maritime dispute can be settled with give-and-take, says Chandra

Social activist and political analyst Chandra Muzaffar says Singapore port can easily face any competition posed by the Johor Bahru port because its facilities are world-class. (AFP pic)

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia and Singapore need to learn how to give and take, be accommodative with one another and understand each other’s “feelings” when it comes to dealing with the much-talked-about maritime border dispute recently.

Social activist and political analyst Chandra Muzaffar said it is pivotal for both countries to be tolerant and willing to admit errors in a bid to reach an amicable settlement regarding the issue, which has brought both countries to be at loggerheads again.

“Both countries need to be open with each other. Keep in mind Singapore will always be there and we will always be here. We have to find ways and need to live together because geography doesn’t change.

“Whenever there’s a dispute, we have to find ways and means to resolve it as effectively and efficiently as possible. The most important thing is to ensure justice is served,” he told Bernama.

The Singapore and Malaysia bilateral spat on maritime boundaries, with matters related to the Johor Bahru port limits, surfaced on Dec 4 when the republic claimed the recent extension of sea limits had encroached into Singapore’s territorial waters off Tuas.

Transport Minister Loke Siew Fook said the claim was inaccurate, pointing out that the new port limits were in Malaysia’s territorial sea area.

Singapore also claimed that Malaysian government vessels have been continually intruding into its territorial waters off Tuas, with 14 intrusions recorded until the middle of the month.

This led to the republic urging Malaysia to withdraw its vessels from disputed waters which it claims to be its territorial waters.

‘Keep status quo’

Chandra said Singapore’s move to order Malaysia’s vessels out from the area was unnecessary as they must “keep the status quo while negotiations are going on”.

The International Movement for a Just World (Just) president said any major disruptions in the relationship between Malaysia and Singapore could have serious repercussions because both countries are incredibly close.

However, he noted that the issue would not have an adverse impact upon bilateral ties as both countries have adopted a very rational approach to tackling this issue.

“I don’t think either country wants to escalate it and they are not going to war on this issue. It would have some influence upon bilateral ties but it will not have an adverse effect on a massive scale. I don’t think so,” he said.

When asked to comment on whether Malaysia’s stance on Seletar Airport and the High-Speed Rail issue caused Singapore to act provocatively, he said those issues, in a sense, were not new as there have been uneasy relations between Malaysia and Singapore on specific issues for a long time.

To a question whereby the upgrading of the Johor Bahru port could take away sizeable business as international shippers could now bypass the Singapore port, as claimed by an article published in Singapore Herald, he viewed it as merely speculative at this stage.

Chandra added the impact, if the claim turned out to be true, might be minimal and he did not think the Singapore port could not absorb it due to the fact that their maritime facilities are indeed world-class and far ahead of any other Southeast Asian countries.

Apart from that, as Singapore is gearing up for its general election next month, he said Singaporeans might not be that much bothered by the issue as there are other issues that concern them more, such as the cost of living and foreign presence.

‘General election a factor’

“Yes, it is quite possible that their general election is a factor why the Singaporean government is giving some emphasis on this issue, but I don’t think it will be that central,” said Chandra in response to whether the Singaporean government was playing up the maritime border issue to gain support from its people in the upcoming election.

In the meantime, Chandra advised Malaysian officials who would be involved in negotiation talks on resolving the Johor Bahru port limits issue, which is slated to take place in the second week of January 2019 in Singapore, to prepare the case well, to get all their facts right and negotiate with justice at heart.

“We have to be more mature, rational, and accommodative. Bear in mind that the principle or factor here is justice and if we keep that in mind, I think we will be able to achieve what we want,” he said, adding that he is optimistic that both sides would resolve the issue in a positive and professional manner.