Singapore-Malaysia: Let’s really build ‘win-win’ neighbour relationship

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Photo: YouTube screengrab of Singapore-Malaysia Causeway skyline

GOOD neighbours must always promote win-win relationship and in the case of the ongoing rising hiccups between Singapore and Malaysia, one wonders who should give way.

To sincerely advocate a harmonious long-term relationship, both countries must shake hands to demonstrate its neighbourliness once more. Malaysia, must be the good neighbour it expects Singapore to be.

As the competition hots up at either ends of the Causeway with the time-honoured neighbours, Malaysia through its Johor State Women and Tourism Development Committee chairman Liow Cai Tung admitted that Singaporeans form the core of tourist and international arrivals to Johor.

The thumbs-up: A whopping 5.6 million visitors recorded in the first six months of this year.

She said the figure was followed by arrivals from Indonesia (690,998), China (386,778), Philippines (157,594), India (101,750), Japan (59,901), South Korea (62,474) and Thailand (47,758).

“Tourists and visitors from other countries include the United Kingdom (27,133), Australia (30,548), Brunei (4,918) and other nations (351,784) that were recorded from January to June this year,” said Ms Liow, adding that Johor had a total of 7.52 million international visitors to the state via 14 entry points during the same period.

SINGAPOREANS FIRST IN JOHOR

She made the figures known in reply to Cheo Yee How (PH-Perling) on his question on the statistics of the influx of tourists to the state at the Johor state assembly in the Sultan Ismail Building in Kota Iskandar.

Ms Liow, who is also the Johor Jaya assemblyman, said that based on observation, five main districts in Johor visited by domestic and international tourists are Johor Baru, Kota Tinggi, Mersing, Pontian and Muar.

“The state government, through Tourism Johor, found that most domestic and international tourists entering the state were mainly for vacation, relaxation, shopping, entertainment, food, medical treatment, attending meetings or seminars and visiting friends or relatives,” she said.

In recent months, Malaysia-Singapore relations turned particularly acrimonious as Malaysia accused Singapore of profiteering from the purchase of water from Johor at a low price and the sale of treated water back to Johor at a high price. Malaysia also alleged that Singapore’s port reclamations around Tuas would affect the development plans of southern Johor.

Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad’s administration also had disagreements with Singapore on airspace rights, joint military exercises, a cross-border stock market and land links between Singapore and Johor.

But in the latest Causeway row, with the harshest-ever words ever used in recent months, Singapore stands by its ground rules that sovereignty cannot be compromised, says Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan.

“Singapore cannot allow our sovereignty to be violated, or new facts on the ground to be created,” affirmed Mr Khaw. “Therefore, if it becomes necessary, we will not hesitate to take firm actions against intrusions and unauthorized activities in our waters to protect our territory and sovereignty.”

Yes, there’s no need to get your hung-out bag ready just yet, though. Malaysia has proposed that officials from both sides meet to work it out, which Singapore has agreed to and will follow up.

FIRM SINGAPORE STAND

“Leave our waters while we pursue sit-down dialogues to resolve it,” he reiterated, expressing displeasure about the 14 intrusions Malaysian vessels have made into Singapore’s territorial waters off Tuas. He also showed a clip of The Republic of Singapore Navy and coast guard issuing repeated warnings to trespassing Malaysian government vessels.

Mr Khaw made it adamantly clear: “We still seek good bilateral relations and hope we can work together to find an amicable solution to these issues. When our national interests are challenged, we have to quietly but firmly stand our ground and stay united as one people.”

End of the day, neighbourly hiccups aside, good economics may be a smart reason to. David Hume, an 18th century Scottish philosopher, historian and economist, addressed the subject of prospering from one’s neighbours in his essay Of the Jealousy of Trade.

“Nothing is more usual, among states which have made some advances in commerce, than to look on the progress of their neighbours with a suspicious eye, to consider all trading states as their rivals, and to suppose that it is impossible for any of them to flourish, but at their expense,” Hume wrote.

“In opposition to this narrow and malignant opinion, I will venture to assert, that the increase of riches and commerce in any one nation, instead of hurting, commonly promotes the riches and commerce of all its neighbours; and that a state can scarcely carry its trade and industry very far, where all the surrounding states are buried in ignorance, sloth, and barbarism.”

Hume was writing, at the time, of Great Britain’s relations with its neighbours: Germany, Spain, Italy and France. He said he prayed for “flourishing commerce” in those nations and suggested that all would benefit from sovereigns and ministers adopting “enlarged and benevolent sentiments towards each other”.

NEIGHBOURS AT ODDS

Singapore and Malaysia are not the only neighbouring countries or trade partners at odds with each other. The US and China recently announced additional tariffs on trade with each other. The UK is trying to leave the European Union. And there is growing rivalry between Hong Kong and Shenzhen.

Such positions arise from the misconception that economics is a zero-sum game. US President Donald Trump appears to believe that China is unfairly profiting by flooding the US market with cheap steel or cars.

Likewise, some Singapore netizens may think giving Malaysia a leg-up may one day lead to the latter’s achieving greater prosperity at Singapore’s expense.

The big Causeway question: Is it possible for neighbours to build win-win relationships?

With the verbal-warring going on, it is right time for both Singapore and Malaysia to demonstrate the refreshing qualities of good neighbourliness once more.

It must be a win-win situation and Malaysia must be the good neighbour it expects Singapore – who cross over the Causeway in the largest record numbers in latest official statistics – to be.

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