Calls for restraint, consideration and sensitivity as the hallmark in Malaysia-Singapore relations to avoid strains and estrangements in bilateral ties and urges Singapore Government leaders to show greater sensitivity and respect to Malaysian feelings


Media Conference Statement (II)
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Friday): DAP calls for restraint, consideration and sensitivity as the hallmark in Malaysia-Singapore relations to avoid strains and estrangements in bilateral ties between the two countries and urges the Singapore Government leaders to show greater sensitivity and respect to Malaysian feelings.

There has been general concern that the unpleasant episode in Malaysia-Singapore relations arising from Singapore Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s derogatory remarks about Johore had not only not ended, but seems to be like a “live volcano” which could explode any time.

This was why the report yesterday that the Cabinet had decided to freeze all fresh bilateral ties with Singapore had brought about a widespread sense of unease that both the Singapore and Malaysian leaders are allowing the situation to get out of hand.

Two cabinet ministers, the Minister for Information, Datuk Mohamad Rahmat and the Minister for Culture, Arts and Sports, Datuk Sabbaruddin Chik, had confirmed on Wednesday night that the Cabinet had decided among other things, to put a stop to all government-to-government bilateral dealings, and that “apart from suspending any fresh official trade deal with the republic, the decision also affects social contacts like sports meets”.

Yesterday, two other Cabinet Ministers, the Education Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and the Youth and Sports Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, also confirmed such a Cabinet decision.

However, the four-paragraph statement by the Acting Foreigh Minister, Datuk Abang Abu Bakar Mustapha denying that there was any decision to freeze ties with Singapore has created all-round confusion as to what was actually decided by the Cabinet.

Describing as “not very accurate” media reports which quoted two ministers as saying that the decision by the Cabinet put a stop to all government-to-government bilateral dealings, Abang Abu Bakar said the Cabinet meeting last Wednesday, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, had discussed the latest issues pertaining to the relationship between the governments of Malaysia and Singapore.

He said: “What was meant was that the Government was reviewing the implications of the episode on bilateral relations with Singapore following the statement by Singapore’s Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew about Johore and the Singapore’s reaction over the statement.”

The comments from Tokyo by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who was not present at the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, on reports of the Cabinet decision to cool off ties and put off fresh dealings with Singapore are significant. He said he needed to “go back and get an explanation from them before I can make any further comment. This decision was taken in my absence and they must have some good reason and I would like to know more about this.”

The events in the past two days show that the Cabinet is quite divided on the issue of Malaysia-Singapore bilateral relations.

However, what Malaysians should not be divided is that we want restraint, consideration and sensitivity to be the hallmark in Malaysia-Singapore relations to avoid strains and estrangements in bilateral ties between the two countries and the need for the Singapore Government leaders to show greater sensitivity and respect to Malaysian feelings.

The Prime Minister said that Malaysia would normalise relations with Singapore as soon as the people get over the “feeling of hurt and bitterness” caused by uncalled-for remarks against the country.

The Singapore Government leaders should show that they are capable of learning from the latest unpleasant chapter in Malaysia-Singapore relations and not to take the feelings and sensitivities of Malaysians lightly. The displeasure of Malaysian leaders at some of the statements made by Singapore Government leaders, including that of the Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, should be understood and accepted by the Singapore Government.

The Cabinet at its meeting the previous Wednesday had decided to accept the apology and retraction of Lee Kuan Yew, and both leaders and peoples of both countries should open a new chapter in their bilateral relations. Leaders of both countries should avoid taking actions or making statements which would lead to escalation or estrangement in the relations of both countries.

(28/3/97)


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong