Saifuddin: Malaysia-Singapore Ties Very Good

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SINGAPORE, Jul 31 – Bilateral relations between Malaysia and Singapore are at a very good level, said Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah. He said both governments saw the issues of the High Speed Rail (HSR) project and the 1962 water agreement as matters that needed to be tackled but nevertheless should not be obstacles to maintaining good relations.

Saifuddin noted that Malaysia and Singapore wanted to further boost bilateral relations. Saifuddin is here on his first official visit to the republic, on the invitation of his Singaporean counterpart Dr Vivian Balakrishnan. It is also part of a series of his introductory visits after being sworn in as the new foreign minister on July 2, 2018.

Saifuddin, who arrived here yesterday for a two-day visit, was accompanied by officials from the Malaysian Foreign Ministry. The minister had earlier in the afternoon called on Singapore President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong after being hosted to a luncheon by Dr Balakrishnan. According to Saifuddin, the HSR and water issues were raised during his meeting with his Singaporean counterpart and Prime Minister Lee.

“I tried my level best to explain the situation. We are looking at the big picture … As far as our bilateral relations (are concerned) … our ties are strong and we want to work hard to bring it to greater heights,” said Saifuddin, who is scheduled to call on Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on Tuesday.

On HSR, Saifuddin said he had informed them that on July 23, Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali had written to his Singaporean counterpart saying that he would travel to Singapore to discuss the matter.

“It will take place very soon,” said Saifuddin, adding that “I stated the fact that we want to sit down and discuss.” Following the Pakatan Harapan forming the new government in Malaysia after the 14th general election on May 9, Malaysia took the stand to negotiate a deferment of the HSR project with Singapore.

The previous Barisan Nasional government in Malaysia and the Singapore government had agreed to jointly undertake the HSR project, which will cut travelling time between Kuala Lumpur and the city-state. It was reported that Malaysia could not unilaterally discard the agreement as it would end up paying a high compensation.

On the 1962 water agreement, Saifuddin said he had underlined the fact that there could be a review as this was stated in the agreement. “There is a clause about a review that surely we can look at,” he said, adding he understood that Singapore had its own perspective.

“They brought the issue of water treatment. I think proposals and counter proposals can be brought to the table when we have a proper discussion,” he said. He said there were discussions in the past but there was no progress.

“Surely we can continue the discussion. The agreement says the content of the agreement can be reviewed after 25 years. It doesn’t mean at 25 years … so we can continue talking,” he added.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has expressed his displeasure with the agreement saying it was unfavourable to Malaysia and wanted it renegotiated. — Bernama

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