Your Excellency, welcome to Singapore. How has your settling in been?
Life as a high commissioner representing Malaysia in Singapore is very fast-paced but satisfying. It has been wonderful but very busy four months. Over one hundred and twenty thousand Malaysians travel up and down daily so there’s a lot of bilateral interaction between the two countries. We have held several events ranging from economy, investment to culture, including a ‘Kendurian’ networking Open House event.
At the highest level, the two Prime Ministers met in July at Putrajaya during which they witnessed the signing of the MOU on the High-Speed Rail. At my level, I’ve been making official calls to various ministers, business leaders, thought leaders and diplomatic colleagues. We also have had several ministerial visits. Discussions have covered many areas such as water, rail link, immigration etc.
What would you say about the current state of Malaysia and Singapore diplomatic ties? Is there a change?
There is no doubt the relationship between Malaysia and Singapore has definitely changed. It is evident that it is the best it has ever been. I am confident that it will continue to grow in time to come. We ought to understand that for the first time, we’ve two prime ministers who are sons of prime ministers themselves. There are not many countries I can think of where leaders of two countries are actually sons of former leaders who know each other. It’s truly a unique case so you can understand the chemistry between my Prime Minister, Najib and Mr Lee Hsien Loong, is of a different level altogether. Because they know each other, their relationship is very easy, solid and business-like. They are keen to look at opportunities rather than to dwell on past dissatisfaction. Therefore, their relationship is on a very high plane. With the good examples set by the two leaders, the ministers of both countries have also engaged themselves very closely.
What areas do you see in the investment potential between the two countries?
The high-speed rail project has been described by President Tony Tan and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as a game changer. It will make connection between the two countries almost seamless. The entire length of track that goes from Jurong to Kuala Lumpur will see growth take place along corridors of this track and many of the nearby towns in Johore, Malacca, Negri Sembilan and Kuala Lumpur. These are potential areas where industries in Singapore can expand into.
While there are opportunities in Iskandar, I have met some Singaporean entrepreneurs who have located someof their companies further up in Johore and Malacca. In these places, they found a bigger expanse of area to work in. Infrastructure is great because they can use existing roads to transport their finished products. With the upcoming high-speed rail, it will improve the efficiency of their operations further and the areas around the rail will have a lot more economic activities taking place. Singaporeans looking to locate themselves along this route will have something to look forward.
Being members of the ASEAN Group, how do Malaysia and Singapore work together for the best results?
In ASEAN, we will carry on expressing views that we should work cohesively together rather than allow ourselves to be subjected to external pressures and how to look at ourselves collectively to preserve our common interest. For example, in the case of the South China Sea, all stakeholders know how important the South China Sea is. Much of the world’s trade passes through it.
China is a huge trading partner with most of the countries in the world so every country depends on China’s economic vitality and for China to remain economically vibrant, it needs a stable South China Sea. Hence, it is in nobody’s interests to upset the stability of the South China Sea.I think Singapore has done a good job currently as the coordinator between ASEAN and China. It is a very small country but has acted in a balanced manner.
Could you tell us about the cooperation in the area of security?
Cooperation between Malaysia and Singapore in the area of security has always been good. In the past we all suffered from another common security threat – of the Communist insurgency but we dealt with it together. Our intelligence forces work very closely together – sharing information and cooperation is second nature for both sides.
Aside from terrorism, there are other security threats such as piracy, which is a menace in the region. Countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Philippines have been closely patrolling the Straits of Malacca and have now agreed to cooperate in the southern Philippines area.