(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): The clumsy justification by the Singapore Home Minister Wong Kan Seng for the drop in the number of Singaporeans visiting Malaysia during the June school holidays is not conducive to the improvement of Malaysia-Singapore relations.
Although Wong denied that the Singapore government had directed its people not to visit Malaysia, he added that "it is only natural for Singaporeans not to visit places where they were not welcomed".
Wong may think he is being very smart in making a statement which cannot be faulted for its correctness, but he should know that in politics as well in diplomacy, one can be correct and still be very wrong. This is one classic example.
While no one can fault Wong for the statement that it is natural for the people of any country not to visit places where they are not welcomed, is Wong implicitly and even explicity implying that Singaporeans are not welcomed in Malaysia?
Even if there are such feelings among some Singaporeans, no Singapore Government Minister or responsible official should do or say anything which could lend credence to such sentiments - which the Singapore Government should know is not true, or Malaysia-Singapore relations would be in such a bad state as to jeopardise the success of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting in July and the informal ASEAN summit in December, both to be held in Malaysia.
Unfortunately, this is what the Singapore Home Minister has done - making a statement lending credence to the impression that Singaporeans are not welcomed in Malaysia.
This issue here is not one of ringgit and sen, for Malaysia can survive the drop in the number of Singaporeans visiting Malaysia - but the state of Malaysia-Singapore relations, whether the leaders of both countries want to see the continued escalation in the aggravation of ties between the leaders in both countries, and what is worse, the expansion of such aggravation of relations to the people of both countries.
Singapore government leaders cannot run away from the fact that it was the Singapore Senior Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, who sparked off the latest spat between the two countries with his affidavit about Johore being notorious for shootings, muggings and car-jackings.
The matter should be allowed to rest following the unqualified apology and expungement of the offending statement in Kuan Yew’s affidavit, although there are certain political "hot-heads" who still make very extremist statements such as cutting off of water supply to Singapore - reckless of how such statements could damage bilateral relations between the two countries so long as it could promote their political careers.
In fact, there are certain election strategists who are thinking of exploiting the Malaysia-Singapore issue in the current series of by-elections, thinking that this could be twisted to serve their political and electoral advantage while completely indifferent to their larger responsibility to promote the welfare of the country and people.
Responsible leaders of both countries must exercise restraint and statesmanship of the highest quality if relationship between the two countries are not to continue to worsen. They should soothe feelings rather than egg on emotions, whether directly or indirectly, blatantly or subtly.
Wong Kan Seng has failed to measure up to this criteria in his statement yesterday.
I am sure the people of Singapore and Malaysia want to see an end to the unpleasantness in the relationship between the two neighbouring countries. They want to tell their leaders "Enough is Enough" to the manifestation of bad blood and that it is time for the "good blood" and positive vibes among the peoples of both countries to take centre stage.
If the leaders cannot repair the relationship between Malaysia and Singapore, may be the job should be given to the people of the two countries themselves.