Malaysia suspends permanent Restricted Area over Pasir Gudang

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan met his Malaysian counterpart Saifuddin Abdullah this morning to discuss the bilateral disputes at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

SINGAPORE, Jan 8, 2019, Today Online. Malaysia has suspended the permanent Restricted Area established over Pasir Gudang, while Singapore has shelved the implementation of the Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) at Seletar Airport, reported the Today Online.

The “simultaneous and immediate” suspension — for one month in the first instance — was announced on Tuesday (Jan 8) following a “positive and constructive” meeting between Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and his Malaysian counterpart Saifuddin Abdullah.

In the meantime, the transport ministers from both countries should meet soon for discussions on the Restricted Area and the ILS procedures to “ensure the safety and efficiency of civil aviation”, said a joint press statement.

On the maritime dispute over the port limits, the two countries agreed to set up a working group headed by Singapore’s Permanent Secretary (foreign affairs) Chee Wee Kiong and Malaysia’s foreign ministry secretary-general Muhammad Shahrul Ikram Yaakob.

The group, which will report to the countries’ Foreign Ministers within two months, will “study and discuss the legal and operational matters in order to de-escalate the situation on the ground, and provide the basis for further discussions and negotiations”, the statement said.

The statement also reiterated both countries’ commitment to preserving their vital relationship and to improving bilateral ties, “on the basis of equality and mutual respect”. Singapore and Malaysia also agreed on the importance of keeping the ground situation calm in order to “allow discussions to take place in a conducive atmosphere”.

Speaking at a joint press conference, Dr Balakrishnan said: “Brother Saifuddin from Malaysia and I, had a very positive, constructive, and very necessary meeting… I’m glad to be able to report that we’ve arrived at some agreements. And we’ve also, just as importantly, reaffirmed our commitment to strengthening the vital relationships between Malaysia and Singapore, and also to improve bilateral ties on the basis of equality and mutual respect.”

He reiterated that both countries “will always be close and permanent neighbours”. “That is a geographical fact. It is essential that we always have a constructive and cooperative bilateral relation,” he said.

Describing the meeting as “very cordial, very friendly”, Mr Saifuddin echoed Dr Balakrishnan’s sentiments on bilateral ties. “We have a long history of good relations. And there is only one way to go forward and that is to become stronger in our ties and improve our relations,” he said.

He added: “The measures we have agreed upon are positive and they are constructive steps towards calming the situation on the ground. We believe this will provide a conducive environment for both countries to find mutually agreeable solutions to our bilateral issues.”

On Jan 1, the Republic’s Ministry of Transport (MOT) raised its concerns with Malaysia regarding the establishment of the permanent Restricted Area, which took effect the next day, citing the move’s “adverse impact on civil aviation with Malaysia”. This was the latest development in the bilateral spat between both countries over territorial waters and airspace.

In recent weeks, Singapore and Malaysia’s transport agencies and officials have been involved in a public exchange of words regarding separate protests lodged against each other over issues related to airspace and territorial waters.

Last month, Malaysia’s transport minister Anthony Loke said that Malaysia wants to reclaim Singapore’s “delegated airspace” over Southern Johor, citing concerns over sovereignty and national interest.

Singapore’s transport minister Khaw Boon Wan responded that Malaysia seemed to be using a “technical excuse” to change airspace arrangements in Southern Johor. This arrangement was agreed upon more than 40 years ago by both countries and other regional states and approved by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

In December last year, the Singapore government came out to strongly protest against Malaysia’s move to expand its Johor Bahru port limits into the Republic’s territorial waters, saying the action violates sovereignty and international laws. Malaysia’s government vessels have also been repeatedly intruding Singapore’s waters, said the authorities. In response, Singapore extended its port limits off Tuas.

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