Guarded optimism for S’pore-KL cooperation

By Friday June 12th, 2009 No Comments

KUALA LUMPUR, June 13 —  Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has guarded optimism for future cooperation between Singapore and Malaysia, after four days of meetings with top leaders here. He found the Malaysian Cabinet solidly behind Prime Minister Najib Razak’s new policy of cooperation with Singapore, he told reporters.

He said he emphasised to Najib that such cooperation must be long term and across the board as massive investments are involved.

“I had to emphasise that it cannot be cooperation today, non-cooperation next year and then back again, backwards and forwards,” he said here Thursday night.

“No private investor will go into huge projects, which require decades to recoup, unless there’s long-term stability in the policy,” he added.

The two iconic projects proposed for both countries to work on together are the Iskandar Malaysia economic corridor and a third bridge linking Changi to Malaysia’s east coast.

They were the subject of discussion when Najib and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met last month in Singapore.

Najib also proposed a north-south highway on the eastern side to Pekan in the state of Pahang, Lee said.

Whatever the joint projects decided upon, the elder Lee said the final balance of outcomes must be fair on both sides.

For example, it would not make sense for Singapore to agree on a third bridge if Johor does not lift its ban on the export of sand to the Republic, in place since 1997, he said.

“The third bridge from Changi, it’s for technical discussions. It does not make sense to us if at the same time, they punish us by making us barge sand from Vietnam.

“It’s no benefit to them; it’s just to cause us extra losses. So if there is cooperation, it must be across the board and the final balance must be fair on both sides and not just in specific, selective areas,” he said.

Lee said he was encouraged that Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and three other key Cabinet members whom he met, all backed Najib’s stand on working with Singapore.

The three are Home Minister Hishamuddin Hussein, Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Regional Development Minister Shafie Apdal.

Lee cautioned however, that “if there are discordant voices, either from the states… or from whatever high sources in Umno, then doubts will be cast in the minds of private investors”.

On outstanding bilateral issues, the Minister Mentor took a firm line, saying “there are no longstanding bilateral issues which cannot be resolved”.

He said these outstanding issues involve firm agreements signed by both sides, and there is no cause to either quarrel over them or forget about them. If differences of interpretation arise, they can be referred to arbitration or adjudication by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), he added.

One outstanding issue is the implementation of the Points of Agreement (POA) on Malayan Railway land in Singapore.

Malaysia disputes Singapore’s interpretation of the POA, which was signed by Lee and former Malaysian finance minister Daim Zainuddin in 1990.

An earlier issue, sovereignty over Pedra Branca, was resolved before the ICJ last year.

Lee also called on the media on both sides to play their part to support bilateral cooperation.

He cited as one source of concern Singapore media’s publication of wire agencies’ reports quoting opposition leaders’ views on PM Najib’s wife.

“If we want cooperation to continue, we must treat each other as friends and exercise discretion,” he said.

Turning to recent political developments in Malaysia, Lee said the large swing in favour of the opposition Pakatan Rakyat alliance in last year’s general election, was an unexpected “tectonic shift”.

During his four-day stay in Kuala Lumpur, Lee met leaders of the Islamic-based opposition party Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), who predicted that as more rural Malays move to towns and become educated, support for the opposition will grow.

Lee said he believed that the ruling Barisan Nasional would not stay put but change in response to urban voters’ desire for more transparency and a more inclusive society.

Lee flew to Ipoh on Thursday night. Today, he is in Penang, the third stop on an eight-day visit that will later take him to Kota Bharu and Kuantan.

Source : Straits Times

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