“A provocative act,” that was what it was called when Johor Chief Minister Osman Sapian’s went to an “unauthorised visit” to Malaysian vessel Pedoman in Singapore waters. The said act went against the spirit of the agreement to resolve bilateral issues that the two countries are presently involved in.
After the unofficial trip, Singapore’s MFA sent a diplomatic note to Malaysia to protest the “unauthorized visit” of Johor Chief Minister Osman Sapian. “Such a provocative act went against the spirit of the agreement reached a day earlier by Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan and his Malaysian counterpart, Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah, to resolve bilateral issues in a calm and constructive manner,” the MFA was quoted as saying.
It is believed that the incursion made by the Johor Chief Minister produced an environment that is not conducive to the holding of the Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia (JMCIM) 14th meeting which triggered Singapore’s decision to postpone it.
Despite the growing tension between the two countries, Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin in his FB post, clearly said, “There will be a Ministerial Statement on the situation with Malaysia in Parliament tomorrow. We are clear about our sovereignty but have also been exceedingly patient in this entire saga. We hope to be able to resolve this. But it takes two hands to clap. As our Government seeks a solution, let’s stay focused and understand the issues at hand, stay calm, vigilant, resolute and above all, united.”
In Oct 25, 2018, changes to the Johor Bahru port limits were announced through Malaysia’s Federal Government Gazette in a document published by the Attorney-General’s Chambers. The altered port limits extend significantly eastward beyond the territorial sea claim in the area made in Malaysia’s 1979 map.
By Nov 5, Singapore lodges a “strong protest” to the Malaysian government asking Malaysia to abstain from taking any further unilateral action and to amend the gazette notification that would “reflect the sovereignty of Singapore over the waters in question”.
On Dec 5, Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan speaks to his Malaysian counterpart Saifuddin Abdullah on the phone, stressing “urgent need” for Malaysia to stop the intrusions in order to avoid escalating tensions on the ground. He also touches on a separate issue between Singapore and Malaysia, after Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke said in Parliament that Malaysia intended to reclaim southern Johor airspace.
Meanwhile, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad says Malaysia has not touched Singapore’s border. “We can measure to see if it is true or not but we had not touched their border. We are still within our own waters.” The said statement was refuted by Singapore’s Ministry of Transport.
Come Dec 6, Singapore extends its port limits off Tuas. Minister Khaw says Singapore “will not hesitate to take firm actions” against intrusions to protect its territory and sovereignty. “Out of the blue, Malaysia is claiming these territorial waters that belong to Singapore. Without any prior consultations, Malaysia is seeking to alter unilaterally the long-standing status quo in the area. This is a blatant provocation and a serious violation of our sovereignty and international law” Minister Khaw asserted.
Then comes Jan 9, 2019 wherein Johor Chief Minister Osman Sapian made an “unofficial” visit to buoy-laying vessel MV Pedoman, a Malaysian vessel anchored in Singapore Port Limits.
By Jan 14, 2019, Singapore Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan delivered a ministerial statement in Parliament, where he says that the daily intrusions by Malaysian government vessels into Singapore waters have continued despite Malaysia saying it will “take all effective measures to de-escalate the situation on the ground.”