Singapore’s Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan was injured last week and is presently confined in the hospital. He is on extended medical leave, and in the meantime, Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan will be overseeing some of his duties.
Mr Khaw, age 66, fell last week and sustained a fracture to his left arm and is undergoing medical treatment, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on February 25, Monday. He is scheduled for surgery later this week.
A press statement from the PMO said that the Transport Minister “is currently warded receiving treatment and will resume duties when he is able to do so, probably after several weeks.”
Dr Balakrishnan, age 58, has been appointed Acting Minister for Transport in Singapore-Malaysia Bilateral Negotiations. He has stepped up to assume some of the Transport Minister’s responsibilities in order to continue discussions with Malaysia over matters pertaining to transport.
According to the PMO website, “This ensures that the ongoing discussions with Malaysia on several transport matters will continue to be well coordinated.”
He will be assisted by the following officials Senior Minister of State Dr Lam Pin Min, Senior Minister of State Dr Janil Puthucheary and Senior Parliamentary Secretary Mr Baey Yam Keng who will also assist on the Committee of Supply (COS) debate which resumes on February 26.
In January, Mr Khaw met in Singapore with Malaysia’s Transport Minister, Anthony Loke, to talk about airspace and aviation issues that has currently beset the two countries.
When Singapore announced new landing procedures at Seletar Airport, Malaysia protested, saying that these procedures would impede the progress of taller buildings at Johor’s Pasir Gudang, which is located toward the north side of the airport. Singapore refuted this claim.
The airspace issue, as well as the maritime dispute revolving around Johor Bahru port limits, have been a concern between Singapore and Malaysia since late last year. Malaysia had unilaterally decided on extending the port limits at Johor Bahru last October, which resulted in an intrusion of government ships into the Republic’s territorial waters.
Mr Khaw, who is also the nation’s Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure, called his talk with Mr Loke in January “a heart-to-heart discussion.”
Dr Balakrishnan has played a significant role in the talks between Singapore and Malaysia over territorial disputes as well. In January the Foreign Affairs Minister met with his Malaysian counterpart, Saifuddin Abdullah.
Dr. Balakrishnan and Mr. Saifuddin have both pressed for more discussions in order for solutions to be found for issues that have arisen especially after Dr. Tun Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s Prime Minister, returned to power in May 2018.
Of the meeting with Malaysia’s Foreign Minister, Dr. Balakrishnan wrote, “We reaffirmed our commitment to preserving the vital relationship between both countries, and improving bilateral ties, on the basis of equality and mutual respect.
We agreed to the immediate and simultaneous suspension of Malaysia’s permanent Restricted Area over Pasir Gudang and Singapore’s implementation of Instrument Landing System procedures for Seletar Airport for one month, in the first instance. Our Transport Ministers will meet shortly to discuss these issues further.
On the Johor Bahru Port Limits issue, we agree to establish a working group to discuss how both sides can de-escalate the situation on the ground and provide a basis for further negotiations.
The working group will be co-chaired by the Permanent Secretary of MFA and the Secretary-General of the Malaysian Foreign Ministry, and will report to the Ministers within two months.”
Dr. Balakrishnan also met with Malaysian Minister of Economic Affairs Dato’ Seri Azmin Ali in January, wherein the two ministers discussed bilateral issues.
Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister wrote of that meeting, “We had an open and candid discussion on the issues currently confronting us. We reaffirmed that there are far more opportunities for Malaysia and Singapore to work together, especially at this time of global economic transformation.”