March 15, 2002
Malaysia and Singapore stick to their guns in land reclamation row
PRIME Minister Goh Chok Tong late Friday, March 15, urged Singaporeans to react in a "dignified and mature manner" to a series of criticisms from the Malaysian media and parliament.
Speaking before community leaders, Goh said engaging the city-state's immediate neighbour in a tit-for-tat debate would be pointless.
"Recently, there has been a barrage of criticisms against Singapore, both in the Malaysian media and in the Malaysian parliament. In many instances, the facts were wrong, omitted or twisted," he said.
"But let us take things in stride. There is no need for us to engage them in a battle of words on each and every one of their utterances. That will be an unproductive, endless exercise," he added.
While Singapore has its sensitivities, Goh said Singaporeans should "react in a dignified, mature manner."
He said a description by a Malaysian journalist of the tiny but prosperous city-state as an "irritating pimple that refuses to burst" reminded him of former Indonesian president B.J Habibie who called Singapore a "little red dot."
"Let us quietly resolve to show them that this 'pimple' is actually a beauty spot, and this 'red dot' a treasured ruby," Goh said.
He added both countries would "benefit immensely" if they worked together "instead of playing the old record of bilateral issues."
Ties between the neighbours have been erratic since Singapore was ejected from the Malaysian federation to become an independent state in 1965.
Allegations over a land reclamation project by Singapore along a waters separating the countries have become the latest irritant.
Malaysia has voiced concerns the project is too close to its border and could obstruct ships headed for ports in its southern state of Johor, which are being promoted to rival Singapore's port.
Other issues that have strained ties include water supplies from Malaysia to the resource-poor island state, a proposed bridge linking the countries and the use of Malaysian airspace by Singaporean aircraft.
On Tuesday, Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar played down strains in bilateral relations, after talks with visiting Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
"We may have differences. It will be there but will not stop us from having good bilateral and mutually beneficial relations with Singapore," Syed Hamid said.