Singapore Government Press Release
Media Relations Division, Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts,
MITA Building, 140 Hill Street, 2nd Storey, Singapore 179369
Tel: 6837-9666



Dr Ong Chit Chung: First, I want to thank the Minister for his most comprehensive and full answer on Malaysia-Singapore relations. It is clear from the presentation given this afternoon that Singapore is most reasonable, most accommodative and most patient in our negotiations with Malaysia. I want to ask the Minister whether the Malaysians understand and know the sanctity of international agreements made by them with other countries. Or do they deliberately choose to ignore this? And, if so, what is their motive?

With Malaysia chopping and changing its position time and time again, all the time, how would Singapore engage meaningfully in negotiations with Malaysia? We would like to know, although the Minister has mentioned, what is next? Is there any date or time-table in mind or is it going to be just a vacuum? In particular, I would ask the Minister to comment on the announcement that Johor said that they would cease buying treated water from Singapore from mid-2003 onwards, after their own water treatment plant has been completed. What would be our response to this?

Dr Ong Chit Chung asked several questions whether they know of the importance of the sanctity of the Water Agreements and so on. From my statement, Members will realise that I have given enough quotations. Some old, like Mr Ariff, the representative of the Vienna Conference on the Law of Treaties, 1968, that he was telling the representatives of the whole world that the Separation Agreement and the Water Agreements are very good examples of how agreements or special agreements that cannot be suspended or terminated for any political reason, and to what Foreign Minister Mr Syed Hamid said last year that they continue to honour the agreements. So these statements indicate, but you have to contrast with some of the other statements which I mentioned in early 2002.

What is the motive for making all the statements? I think that is in the realm of speculation. What is important for us is not so much speculation but for us to state what are the implications which I have done and what is Singapore�s position, which is what I have also done. That is, we cannot allow treaties solemnly entered into to be lightly disregarded or contravened. And if we allow Malaysia to unilaterally change or alter important provisions of an agreement so critical as the Separation Agreement, then where will all this end? Are we expected to quietly accept any other revisions of critical provisions of the Separation Agreement or any other agreement? So, that is why we have to state our position very clearly.

On his other question as to Johor having its own water treatment plants and they may not buy treated water, that is entirely their right. The Water Agreements provide for them to purchase certain amount of treated water from Singapore. In fact they have been purchasing amounts beyond the amounts stipulated. But, if they choose not to that is their rights. We cannot compel them to purchase treated water from us.


As for the next step, we have stated our position that the way forward is through peaceful, amicable settlement of disputes. What does that mean? In normal diplomatic practice, two countries discuss and negotiate to try to find an agreement. I have outlined in the chronology how we have tried to do that. We have been reasonable but there is an impasse. So what do we do after the impasse? Then I pointed out either the PCA or we follow the terms of the Agreements which provide for arbitration. And, I contrasted this with the loose talk of war, which is certainly not the way forward.

Mr R. Ravindran : First, could I ask the Minister why does Singapore maintain that Johor has lost the right of review when the Water Agreements itself provide for the review after 25 years but does not specify when exactly when such a review should take place? The second question is: could the Minister explain why Singapore is not insisting the price review be referred to the ICJ or the Permanent Court of Arbitration?

Answer: As to the first question, Mr Ravindran as a lawyer and so a few other Members, but I do not think this is a place to engage in a detailed legal analysis of the Water Agreement provisions. I think I have mentioned before that if you look at the Water Agreements which you have in the bundle, both have clauses on price review which provide that the rates can be reviewed or the charges can be reviewed after 25 years. Now you can have a legal argument as to whether it should be on the 25th year, or at any time after 25 years, or within a reasonable period, after 1986-87. Now, we have a legal advice which has said that the Malaysia has lost its right of review. While that is a legal issue which will have to be debated at an appropriate forum and I have in fact said it is a matter that can also be put through the process under the Water Agreements.


It is important to also note in this context that Malaysian leaders have said that they chose deliberately not to review at that time they were entitled to because they feared that the price of treated water supplied by Singapore would also be reviewed. Because the review clauses cannot apply only to raw water, it must also apply to treated water.

Now, another factor that I should mention which we pointed out to the Malaysians that if they had exercise the right to review then, it might well have caused different decisions on our part as to the amounts of money that would have been invested and have invested in Johor on various kinds of works which actually have come to more than a billion Singapore dollars - waterworks, pipe lines, ancillary works, the Linggiu Dam. So this is a question will have to be decided at an appropriate time. But we have taken legal advice. But while we are on the subject, even though we took the legal position, we told the Malaysians, we know this is important to you, so we are prepared to discuss this in the context of the package. In other words, on a without prejudiced basis. But if you take it out of the package, shelve future water to 2059 and insist on discussing just existing water, then we will have to go by the terms of the provisions of the Agreements. And they have a legal view, we have a legal view.

The second part of your question is why not international arbitration and adjudication. I would say that, as a general principle, if you ask me as a Foreign Minister and as someone who has taught international law, I think when countries have disputes, it is always preferable to have international adjudication, or international arbitration. But as you know, as Mr Ravindran knows, that is not something that you can compel another side. It requires consensual basis. Both disputing parties must agree to that international arbitration process. And in this case, I think of course, it is better for international credibility and transparency and the signals we are giving to the international community that even this dispute is referred to, say, like the PCA. But they have said, no. But how do we resolve it amicably? So we have to fall back on the provisions, and the provisions provide for arbitration by that particular mode, and we are parties to the agreement, and we have said, ok. We followed the provisions in the agreement.

Ms Irene Ng Phek Hong: Can we not insist that the more proper forum would be the PCA as it is a more neutral body. If we go according to the law to Johor, it may not be as neutral as we would like it to be. And I would think that if Malaysia is confident of its case, as you said it is, it would be prepared to take it to the PCA. My second question is also on the water issue. Given that it is no longer realistic to hope for future water from Malaysia, can the Minister assure all Singaporeans that we are well prepared to be self-sufficient for all our water needs, present and future?

Answer: First part of Irene Ng's question, why shall we not insist and so on? But I have just answered Ravindran's question that PCA requires the consent of both sides. You can insist, but it requires the consent. It is preferable, I think, that is my view. But we deal with the situation as it exists. We cannot compel them. So we fall back on the provisions of the Water Agreements.

On the second part of the question as to can we assure the House. You have heard both Prime Minister Goh and my colleague, Minister Lim Swee Say, informed the House in detail of all the efforts being done to develop our capability for alternative sources - NEWater, desalination - and we press on with it. But we do not know when and how fast that capability can come about. Therefore, in the meantime, what is important is that the obligations under the Water Agreements must be complied with. And that is why I said that is very important. It is not only important from the theoretical principle of observance of international agreements; it is critical for our existence and survival.

Mr S. Iswaran: May I ask the Minister that he is taking the somewhat unprecedented move of releasing the correspondence between the leaders of Singapore and Malaysia as well as other communications between the diplomatic levels. And his reason has been that the hope for a win-win outcome of the issue of water in particular is now not realistic. May I ask why he has come to this conclusion at this stage, because most Singaporeans have this half certainty, being very familiar with this rhetoric coming from across the causeway on the issue of water. And the noise levels, this time, has gone up again. But we have arrived at a very major decision, it would appear, on this matter to set the record straight publicly. And now, I would appreciate if the Minister could clarify the thinking behind such a move.

And secondly, we have taken a move of great gravity on a matter that has been at the center of bilateral ties between Singapore and Malaysia. I think Singaporeans would want to know how is this going to repercuss the broader bilateral ties between our two countries because we have stated that we want to move on on the issue of water and other matters and find a solution. And we would appreciate some clarification from the Minister on that.

Answer: Mr Iswaran's question, the first part of which was about the release of documents and diplomatic notes. I think it would have been clear from my speech that I have done so with reluctance. But why are we doing this? If I may sum up the reasons again. First, we cannot release all these documents. We did not want to release all these documents because there was still hope that the negotiations could continue and that there would still be a door open for talking. But alas that was not the case. If it had been just that, it would have been all right. But, we have been painted as the unreasonable party, the intransigent party, the party to blame for, and accusations, allegations have been cast forth with that light. And I think it is important that these accusations have to be counted otherwise repetitions of untruths, repeated incantations of untruths might be taken to be the truth. It is important for Singaporeans, particularly, to know the facts. To do that, should we just say, that is not true, and sit down? I think we have to come out with all these facts so that the facts and the documents will speak for themselves. I think it is important that all concerned have a clear idea of where we are and why we are, and how we came about.

The second part of his question was, that this has been a central issue, will it impact on other areas of cooperation. In answer to an earlier question, I think I made it clear that there are many other areas of cooperation which both Singapore and Malaysia can gain to benefit by focussing ourselves on that. And it is precisely that we should not let this be such a spiky thorn in our relationship that this non-resolution continues to affect the sum total of our relationship. That is why I pointed out we are in an impasse, let's find a way out of the impasse, talks are not possible, arbitration and let's try to move on. There are many more urgent things at stake.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: The Minister had said that there is good cooperation between civil servants of Home Affairs Ministry and I wonder if the civil servants can strike such a cooperation with the Malaysian counterparts and why is our Minister not able to? In fact, I was quite surprised to hear about the chronological sequence of negotiations that the Minister and Prime Minister had with the Malaysians. It seems to me that our Ministers are being pulled around by the Malaysians going up and down, changing goalpost here and there and I think to me I thought this is quite uncharacteristic of the PAP government which is always talking about no nonsense, being tough - so I am quite surprised that how come in this bilateral with Malaysians, the negotiations seems that Singapore is being pulled along.

Secondly, I understand that we have a non-speculative Foreign Minister who is always based on facts, very diplomatic, very accommodating and I think the negotiations were even prepared to dance with the Malaysians from 45 sen to 3 ringgit and so on for water supplies. But I wonder up to this point in time with the approach that has been taken, we have reached this point where there is a need to open up everything to the public and to tell the public that perhaps maybe there is no return to negotiations. So I wonder whether the way to Singapore�s approach to negotiations so accommodating, so diplomatic. I wonder whether the Foreign Minister will comment whether this has been the correct approach so far, and if so, then why we end up in that situation?

Answer: That is a good question because it causes us to pause and reflect. As he said, why have we reached this position? Have we reached the position because of some "uncorrect" approach of the Foreign Minister and correct approach of their Foreign Minister? These are not personal whims and fancies of a Singapore Minister dealing with personal whims and fancies of a Malaysian Minister. These are negotiating positions and national positions taken in the conduct of negotiations.

Yes, we have been accommodating and reasonable in the negotiations but if the Member had listened to me and as is clear from the documents, he would have seen how the Singapore side, not just the officials or the Foreign Minister, their leaders - the positions we have articulated at every turn, what has been upper most in our minds? It has been the national interest of Singapore and in pursuing the national interest of Singapore, we have in the negotiations had certain markers and those markers have not been compromised.

What are the markers that have not been compromised? One, observance of agreements solemnly and willingly entered into, observance of the water agreements, the guarantees in the water agreements - we have always insisted and never departed from that. Secondly, we were prepared to have the issues resolved in a package in return for future water that will be in Singapore�s national interest. That has been a central point in the negotiations. Have we conceded on that? We have not conceded on that. Third, when they discontinued with the package and insisted on price of current water, our position has been another marker that we are prepared to discuss current water in the context of the package. You take it out of the package, push for future water in 2059 is off. Then it is off, we cannot be bullied and intimidated into agreeing to unilateral revision of the water agreements. There are clear provisions in the agreements and you cannot do it at your whim and fancy. It has to be resolved in accordance with the law and in accordance with the law, we say you have lost the right of review. They disagreed, then there is a process. So at every stage I think it should be clear that Singapore�s negotiating position has had uppermost over-riding interest of Singapore.

Pedra Branca

Ms Indranee Rajah: I have a few questions for the Minister arising from certain facts that the Minister has put forward. We know that Singapore has exercised sovereignty over Pedra Branca since the 1840s. We know that we had separation in 1965, and the first time that the Malaysians had made a claim to Pedra Branca is in 1979 in a map, which means 139 years after we exercised sovereignty and 14 years after Separation. Have the Malaysians given any explanation why there has been this deafening silence on their part in relation to assertion of sovereignty for 139 years or 14 years? More specifically, is it their case that they did not know in 1965 and they suddenly knew in 1979? Or is it that they knew in 1965 but forgot until 1979? Or is it the case that they neither knew nor forgot and suddenly decided in 1979 and, if so, is it a principle of international law that you can suddenly decide that you have sovereignty over your neighbour's property?

Answer: These are questions which should be directed to the Malaysians. But, really, 1979 was the first time that they published a map. I have looked at some of the maps prior to 1979. And prior to 1979, Malaysian maps showed "Pedra Branca (Singapura)". After 1979, it was shown as being within Malaysian waters, and the "Singapura" taken out.

Is it a principle of international law that they can suddenly, out of the blue, after 130 years, and 40 years after independence? I do not think you have to be an international lawyer to know that that is not the case. Although, as I have said, we have been in possession, control and ownership of Pedra Branca and the surrounding waters for more than 150 years, so can somebody spring this and claim that they are owners? And they also claim that they have the right to come and patrol your waters? In international law, in our view, that proposition is not tenable.

Let me ask Members to imagine this. You have a compound house with a garden. You have lived there all your life. Your parents have lived there all their lives. Your grandparents had lived there all their lives. Nobody has ever challenged your ownership or your forefathers' ownership of that property. You have lived peacefully there. Then suddenly one of the neighbours says: "Hey, your house belongs to me." And he says he has found some ancient document in his attic and this house belongs to him. You maintain your legal rights of course, and he says he is going to go to court. You said, well, instead of coming to blows, just go ahead. Take legal action.

You get up one morning, and lo and behold, you find your neighbour climbing the fence, wanting to pitch a tent in your garden, and saying, "Look, since now I am challenging it, there is a dispute, I am entitled to pitch a tent and help you safeguard your property." You will of course say no, isn''t it?

So, we have to maintain observance of international law and observance of international law is that the status quo has to be maintained and the status quo is that Singapore has always been in sovereignty, control and ownership of the territory and of the waters, and that continues to be the case, and will continue to be the case, until and unless the International Court were to rule otherwise.

Mr Abdul Khalis: Firstly, I understand that while we operate a lighthouse at Pedra Branca, we also operate a lighthouse at Pulau Pisang. While we say that Pedra Branca belongs to us, we do not have a similar position as regards to Pulau Pisang. The first question is, what are the differences in Singapore's position with regards to Pedra Branca as opposed to Pulau Pisang? Second question: has Malaysia decided, realised or in any other way taken any steps to claim against any other island that belong to us besides Pedra Branca?

Answer: Let me first say upfront that Pulau Pisang belongs to Malaysia. We have never disputed Malaysia's sovereignty over Pulau Pisang. But our MPA, Maritime Port Authority, however has a right to operate the lighthouse there on Pulau Pisang and the plot of land on which the lighthouse stands as well as the roadway leading to the Lighthouse was granted in perpetuity to Singapore so long as Singapore operates the lighthouse and this was in an indenture between Johor Sultan and the Straits Settlement's Government in 1900 and we became successor to that. So Pulau Pisang, we never contested the sovereignty. Pedra Branca, we have sovereignty over it. It is ridiculous to say, as the Malaysians said, that Singapore can only operate a Lighthouse for Malaysia. I might add that, in 1968, the Malaysian objected to the flying of our flag over the lighthouse, Singapore flag, in Pulau Pisang. They objected to the flag and we took it out. But they never objected then or later to the flying of the Singapore flag in Pedra Branca.

Are they making any other claims? I think the Member is asking because there were some press reports, I believe, in March last year where Berita Harian carried a report from some Malaysian lawyer. That might be the report where it said that Pulau Tekong Kechil was part of Johor. But it is important. The very next day, Malaysia's Foreign Minister publicly denied the claim on Pulau Tekong Kechil and Foreign Minister Syed Hamid said, Malaysia had "no wish to create new problems to Singapore by stating new claims" and that "as far as Singapore was concerned, the only outstanding territorial matter with Singapore was over Pedra Branca."

Mr Chiam See Tong: Dr Tan Cheng Bock has observed that to the Malaysians, no solution is their solution and also I believe Lily Neo has alluded to the loose talk of war. Now the situation of no peace no war is not good for both sides. There may be an accident and war can happen. In 1914, Members would know that the First World War was just started by the shooting of one man. So in our case, I think we should not allow this kind of a situation where there is no peace no war to exist. In this light, I would like to know whether or not is Singapore willing to make a standing offer to Malaysia to have the outstanding matters arbitrated or go before the international court of law since Minister has said that it needs the consensus of both sides to go to the help of a third party?

Now the other supplementary question I would like to ask is has the situation at Pedra Branca improved since the recent statement of the Minister of Defence Mr Tony Tan with regard to intrusion of Malaysian naval vessels in our Singapore territorial waters?

Answer: The answer to the first question of whether we would make a standing offer, I think the answer is yes. First because we offered to go to the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and they said no. And, as it is clear from my speech, since they have said no to that, to resolve the impasse, we said look let�s follow the provisions in the Water Agreements. But actually that�s a move that they have already commenced by issuing a notice. So we have commented and we have said we are prepared to take that route.

Has the situation on the ground in Pedra Branca improved? My understanding from my discussion with Dr Tony Tan is the situation has not improved.

Bilateral Relations

Mr Tan Soo Khoon: Notwithstanding the fact that we are developing alternative sources of water such as NEWater and desalination and we know that today there even exists equipment that allows us to extract drinking water even from air and in spite of the fact that we are dealing with a party that is banned on shifting the goal post frequently in the negotiations, does the Minister agree that it is still in the interests of both sides to reach an amicable solution to the issues and that the successful conclusion of the Water Agreement is still our aim as such an agreement, besides being critical to our survival, serves also to symbolise the inextricably links between our two countries, and that the issues before us should not be allowed to hinder other areas of bilateral cooperation?

Secondly, does the Minister agree that the current climate of frenzy and agitation that has been whipped up by the Malaysian media overlooks the larger interests of both countries and serves only to undermine the efforts to broaden other areas of bilateral cooperation, and does it in no way contribute towards enhancing foreign investor's confidence in the region at a time when we are faced with many other important challenges, such as economic competition from North Asia and the threat of terrorism, all of which requires our joint efforts?

Answer: As to the first part of Mr Tan Soo Khoon's question, I think that if it was possible to have any room for further negotiations and talks, I would agree that let us continue to talk. That has always been my position. This has always been the position of Prime Minister Goh and of the Government. And I hope that I have sufficiently demonstrated by taking Members through in some detail through the chronology that we have taken that position because, if we can have a win-win deal, that is good for both countries to have a Water Agreement. After all, it would deal with our situation of future water supply. But mind you, as Prime Minister Goh said, we must also bear in mind that, because we do not want the water issue to be a thorn that bedevils our relationship, we will have to develop our plans on our own alternative supply of water. But in response to your specific question, if we can have a deal, is it not worth it to continue talking? I said, yes, of course, and that is precisely why we have continued our discussions. But for the reasons I have pointed out, they have through the many changes of positions, finally discontinuing the package and not wanting to talk about future supply of water till 2059. That is made it well-nigh impossible.

The second part of your question, the subsidiary question is all related as to this media frenzy, does it not hinder cooperation and does it not undermine efforts between both countries? I think the answer is yes. It does not make sense for the two countries to be in this stage of ups and downs, particularly on the water issue as well as on so many other issues where allegations have been hurled at us, rather than this state of affairs where accusations have been hurled at us. It really makes sense for us to cooperate in many areas and, indeed, there are many areas which we have cooperation in the past and we continue to have areas of potential cooperation, whether it is in the areas of economic cooperation. Both sides are important to each other for trade and investments, I think Members are aware of the figures. We also have to cooperate in areas of terrorism, as former Speaker mentioned. And I would add that both Malaysia and Singapore are also well positioned to work together for advancing the cause of ASEAN. So there are many areas where really Malaysia and Singapore could work together to advance our mutual bilateral interests and work together for the advancement of the interest of our region.

A/P Ngiam Tee Liang: In view of the twists and turns of the issues, and the tendency of the Malaysian media to play up also these issues, I would like to ask Minister whether it is his assessment there could be a possible danger for terrorist groups to exploit the issues and this becomes one of the Achilles heel in our bilateral relations and so what can we do to overcome and to let the seriousness of the way the situation is developing actually adds to the danger we are faced with global terrorism.

Answer: Of course, both countries would always be mindful of that, but I would like to allay the fears of the members that amidst all this, one of the silver lining if I may say so, is that is the professionals in our law enforcement agencies on both sides, the intelligence, our narcotics, our CID. They have an excellent record of close cooperation. This record of close cooperation continued in the past even during the ups and downs in bilateral relations. And I can say so, with some personal knowledge because for some years I was Minister for Home Affairs and the excellent cooperation. In fact, only a few days ago one of our highest awards was bestowed by President Nathan on the Malaysian Inspector General of Police and I turned up at the investiture ceremony. And this cooperation will continue. It has to be so. We are so close to each other, so much movement of people at the borders that if it were not so, both countries will suffer in dealing with not just terrorism, but law and order, narcotics and so on. So this is one aspect which I like to highlight.

KD Malaya

Mr Sin Boon Ann: Can the Minister comment on the Malaysian accusation that Singapore has failed to abide by the agreement which was made at independence, offering the right of the Malaysian military to maintain facilities in Singapore?

Answer: The Member was probably referring to some statements made that, under the Separation Agreement, they had a right to stay in Singapore and so on. Perhaps Members ought to look at the terms of the Separation Agreement which is also in the bundle of documents. You will find in the provisions of the Separation Agreement a reference to the right of Malaysia to maintain bases and so on in Singapore. But that was envisaged, together with other items, as part of an agreement to be concluded on mutual defence which never materialised. In other words, it was not a substantive provision of the Separation Agreement; it was part of the points indicative of what our future mutual defence agreement could be, and it was never concluded. In other words, from 1965 to 1997 when they left, they stayed here not on the basis of any treaty provisions, but because we wanted them to continue having those facilities. I hope I have answered that question.

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