Dr M on maritime boundaries, airspace and internet regulations

Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. (Bernama pic)

PUTRAJAYA: Dr Mahathir Mohamad today addressed a laundry list of bilateral issues with neighbouring Singapore, including maritime and airspace boundaries, cross-border railway projects, congestion at the border and differences in internet regulations.

In a joint press conference with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Prime Minister’s Office here, he said it is important to resolve issues of concern in a friendly and constructive manner, and work towards amicable solutions.

On the maritime boundaries between the two nations, he said they had implemented the recommendations of the Malaysia-Singapore Working Group including suspending implementation of the Johor Bahru port limits off Tanjung Piai and Singapore port limits off Tuas.

“We will now proceed to maritime boundary delimitation in the area. A new committee will be established for this purpose, and we will commence next month,” he said.

“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.”

On differences in internet regulations, he said in the case of Asia, they had made a promise to do away with the anti-fake news law.

“This is because this is what the people want. And we respect the people who voted us into power.

“On the other hand, of course we know that the present social media can also be abused quite seriously. That means we have to learn how to handle such fake news, but when we have a law that prevents people from airing views, then we are afraid that the government itself may abuse the law, as happened with the last government.

“We do not want any government, this one or the subsequent one, to make use of the law in order to tell fake news or to create fake news in order to sustain itself.

“Of course it will be difficult to handle. But we believe we can accept the challenges, and we can handle them.”

Lee, meanwhile, spoke of Singapore’s Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill. He said he was not familiar with the details of Malaysia’s anti-fake news act.

He added however that fake news was a serious problem which had led to legislation in many countries including France and Germany.

“So Singapore has had to do it as well. We had a very long process and deliberated for almost two years. And finally, we have this bill that is going to be debated in the house.

“I hope eventually it will become legislation. I am not surprised that Reporters Without Borders has criticised the bill and the Singapore media management, but we have done it in Singapore and it has worked.”

Other issues Mahathir spoke on included:

Airspace issues

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 discussions.

Malaysia’s objective is to take back the delegated airspace from Singapore in the area concerned in stages. Malaysia aims to do this within the timeframe beginning the end of 2019 to 2023.

Review of 1962 Johor water agreement

For Malaysia, resolving the longstanding issue of water price review is a priority. We were engaged in active negotiations on the review in the late 90s and early 2000.

Prime Minister 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

Currently, Malaysia is exploring proposals with the aim of cost reduction, and will discuss this further with Singapore before the end of the suspension period (May 31, 2020).

On the Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link project, Singapore is willing to consider suspension of the project. Malaysia is also looking at affordable and sustainable alternatives to the RTS Link project.

Congestion at border

Currently, about 250,000 to 300,000 people cross the causeway on a daily basis.

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 quality of cross-border services.