The 9th Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat has been postponed, and for a while, no one knew who was responsible for the postponement. In the confusion, Malaysia thought that Singapore requested the change of date, but it has since been clarified that it was Malaysia that asked for the postponement because of scheduling reasons.
The Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat is an important event in both governments’ calendars. It gives the leaders of the neighbouring nations alone time with each other, where they can build trust and a good relationship.
Since 2012, the retreats have been a yearly occurrence, alternating between Singapore and Malaysia as locations. According to another media source, the “highlight” of the retreat is “a ‘4-eye’ session in which the two leaders hold frank discussions alone without their officials or delegations”.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s predecessor, Najib Razak, visited Singapore in January of this year for the 8th Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat, where several projects were discussed. However, after the change in Malaysia’s government, some joint projects such as the High Speed Rail have been temporarily put on hold.
The 9th Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat was supposed to happen in Malaysia in November after the ASEAN Summit, which will be hosted by Singapore this year.
PM Mahathir is expected to attend the summit, after which PM Lee would then go to the retreat about 10 days later.
“Next month, Dr. Mahathir is visiting Singapore. He is coming for the ASEAN meetings and then about 10 days after that, I am going up to Putrajaya for our annual retreat between the Singapore and the Malaysian PM,” said PM Lee, speaking to grassroots leaders at the post-National Day Rally dialogue on October 14.
All was going according to schedule, but on October 26, Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs replied to questions from the media about the Leaders’ Retreat and said that it had been postponed.
Malaysian news site Malaysiakini wrongly reported that the decision to postpone the retreat came from Singapore:
“Singapore’s foreign affairs ministry appeared to have unilaterally announced the decision to postpone the meeting two days ago.”
A few days later, on October 30, PM Mahathir said to the media that he was “unaware” that the Leaders’ Retreat was put off.
After he hosted the Anti-Corruption Summit 2018 in Kuala Lumpur, he said:
“This is the first time I heard about it. I didn’t read the news.”
Also on October 30, Singapore’s High Commission in Malaysia published a public clarification to Malaysiakini, saying that the postponement of the retreat came from Malaysia and not from Singapore.
“We are puzzled by the report in Malaysiakini on the postponement of the 9th Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat, which claimed that Singapore’s Foreign Ministry ‘appeared to have unilaterally announced the decision to postpone the meeting’.
Singapore had initially agreed to Malaysia’s proposal to hold the retreat in late November. However, on Oct. 23, 2018, the Malaysian Foreign Affairs Ministry had informed us of the postponement of the retreat due to scheduling constraints on the Malaysian side.
Singapore looks forward to Malaysia hosting the next retreat at a mutually convenient date.”