30 June, 2018
SINGAPORE — Singapore and Malaysia could explore joint patrols in the waters around Pedra Branca and Middle Rocks, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Friday (June 29), in response to his Malaysian counterpart’s suggestion a day earlier.
In an interview on Thursday, Malaysia’s Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu spoke about strengthening security cooperation in the entry lane to the Singapore Strait — near Middle Rocks and Pedra Branca — as an area in which the two countries could join hands.
When asked about this, Dr Ng supported Mr Mohamad’s views. “It makes no sense to deploy more resources around Pedra Branca or Middle Rocks if we can decide on a common plan,” Dr Ng said in an interview ahead of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Day, which falls on Sunday.
Describing the newly appointed Malaysian defence minister’s views as “very enlightened”, Dr Ng added: “Even joint patrols with our agencies and their agencies, I completely agree with that.”
Pedra Branca, which belongs to Singapore, sits at the entrance to the Singapore Strait about 30km east of the country. Middle Rocks, which is under Malaysia’s control, are two clusters of rocks 1km south of Pedra Branca.
Right now, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand carry out joint patrols in the Malacca Strait for maritime security, including counter-piracy efforts.
Noting that he was glad Mr Mohamad floated the idea, Dr Ng said that the two sides will continue to explore such arrangements in future bilateral and regional meetings.
“I think collaboration certainly, as closest neighbours, is ‘win-win’ and we’ll look for more opportunities to do things together,” Dr Ng added.
Of late, ties between Singapore and Malaysia have been thrust into the spotlight. Malaysia’s new government has recently said that it is dropping a plan to build a multi-billion-dollar high-speed rail linking its capital Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, and it is looking to renegotiate a longstanding water-supply deal.
When asked if these are signs that bilateral ties are becoming strained, Dr Ng said that there is a need to deal with new governments “with respect and maturity”.
He likened this to staff members in a company dealing with a new management team.
“(You’ll have to be) mature to know that when there’s a new boss and new government, they’ll do (things) differently and not to jump up and down when their styles change or their priorities change.
“If any country has a new government, they’re the elected government and they’re the powers to be, and you deal with it.”
Countries have their own domestic politics and there was no need to “respond to every articulation”, he added.
Dr Ng used the analogy of a person in a public housing block who has a new neighbour. “You can hear through the walls what he says to his family. Don’t keep knocking at your neighbour’s door and give your inputs. Sometimes, you don’t need to… even if he talks about a common corridor or the fact that his neighbours are so-and-so.”
Besides mutual respect for international norms as well as agreements that both sides are to keep, Dr Ng said that countries should understand each other’s predicaments and challenges. This, however, does not mean undermining one’s position.
“I would approach the first few months of a new Malaysian government with maturity, respect and understanding, and recognise that as closest neighbours, we’ll have to work together,” he said.
“And where we can help, we will. But it is out of mutual respect and benefit. We’re both sovereign nations with our own domestic needs and at the people-to-people level, I would say that it’s still very good.”
There will never come a time when fewer Singaporeans would visit Malaysia, or vice versa, Dr Ng said. “The food is too good on both sides… and we need places to relax,” he quipped. “We’re neighbours for life, so (we have to) just take it within our stride.”