MALAYSIA’S new leader, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, has a long, substantive relationship with Singapore’s principal personalities. Even granting this fact, his hello visit last week as prime minister set a tone of friendship and accommodation so reassuring that sceptics in both countries could actually revive hopes of a fruitful, less nervy, phase in the bilateral relationship. Mr Najib provided the best quote of the deliberations: ‘We should be bold enough, imaginative enough, courageous enough, to represent a new generation of Malaysians and Singaporeans who want this relationship to be a strong, productive and enduring one.’ This newspaper likes the accent placed on the ‘new generation’ and its suggestion of a clean slate.
There is no need to pretend that a substantial suite of issues important to both countries has not been got through for many years because of a misplaced sense of rivalry and even some mistrust. Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in his later years as prime minister unaccountably turned adversarial in his relationship with Singapore. Singaporeans got the feeling he treated the Republic as a troublesome little brother. They did not appreciate being so characterised. Mr Najib’s predecessor, Tun Abdullah Badawi, had better rapport with Singapore leaders, but he was often distracted in office. He lacked the resolve to tackle the bilateral agenda, even ‘low-hanging fruit’ he spoke of on his introductory visit here.
Mr Najib has an easy relationship with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, his contemporary in years and political antecedents. The chemistry between them was evident through the two days of official events. But it was Mr Najib’s express willingness to turn a new page, and to address ‘legacy’ issues both leaders are saddled with, that encouraged belief that this was not just an honoured guest talking nice.
The momentum should be kept up to give meaning to the ‘productive’ in the quote. Malaysia is keen on Singapore participation in the Iskandar project in Johor. PM Lee reiterated his support. Singapore wants the Points of Agreement out of the way as there are pressing land disposal issues involved in state planning. PM Najib wants movement too. There was even talk of a third overland link. New issues like this one will crowd the agenda even as old items remain as a reminder that the two nations, as next-door neighbours, really should be doing better. Mr Najib’s open-mindedness is an enabler. Ministers and senior officials now have the impetus to go for results.
Source : Straits Times