Neighbours Singapore and Malaysia have been tangled in a web of accusations and finger-pointing concerning Malaysia’s move to extend their maritime boundaries into Singaporean territorial waters.
Malaysia has extended its port limits from Johor Bahru, significantly pushing Malaysia’s maritime borders eastwards beyond those previously shown in a 1979 map.
Between November 25th and December 4th, Malaysian vessels have reportedly sailed into Singaporean waters 14 times, leading Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan to claim that Malaysia is violating Singaporean sovereignty. This comes after multiple Singaporean protests against the moves, and warnings against any further escalation that could lead to a flash-point in tensions.
Mr Khaw, speaking to Channel News Asia, announced that although Singapore has been restrained in acting against these sudden unilateral moves, the city-state has decided to extend its own territorial water boundary beyond Tuas in retaliation:
“[Singapore] cannot allow our sovereignty to be violated, or new facts on the ground to be created”
This reprisal has drawn heavy criticism from Malaysia, who have since protested the action through Singapore’s High Commissioner for Malaysia.
Mr Khaw was adamant that these “blatant violations” would be met with “firm actions” if Malaysia did not back down from Singapore’s maritime territory, which is being patrolled by Singaporean Police Coast Guard and Navy Forces.
These moves have come days before claims that Malaysia are looking to reclaim airspace in South Johor, designated to Singapore, and the rejection of the proposed implementation of the Instrument Landing System (ILS), which Malaysia claims would hinder development in industrial districts in the region.
Despite the mounting accusations, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed claimed that the changed port limits did not touch Singaporean borders, despite the intrusions superseding Malaysia’s territorial rights as set out in the country’s own 1979 map of maritime claims.
The 1979 map laid out claims that Singapore strongly rejected, as they interfered with Singaporean maritime borders, and because Singapore was not consulted during the production of the map. Singapore has never since legitimised nor agreed with the map.
Kuala Lumpur’s proposals to de-escalate tensions and rectify the situation follow a ‘cease and desist’ line, which Singapore has strongly rejected. The two countries stress that it is of imperative importance to maintain strong and stable bilateral relations in the face of this disagreement.
To Mr Khaw, the solution is obvious: “Leave our waters. It’s as simple as that”