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New wave of tensions from Malaysia to the Thai-Singapore spat

Updated On: Feb 02, 2007

Outspoken former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, could not refrain from taking a dig at Singapore

Asked to comment  in an interview on Thai TV on the current bilateral spat between Singapore and Thailand over Thaksin’s meeting with Singaporean deputy prime minister, Jayakumar,  Mahathir said that "Singapore doesn't really care about the opinion of its neighbours [and] believes the most important thing is what profits Singapore," also adding that Singapore’s decision was "unfeeling and not sympathetic".

To add fuel to the fire, in response to General Sonthi’s accusation of Singapore spying on Thailand via telephone conversations, Mahathir remarked that "that's the kind of things [Singapore] do[es]." He further suggested that the bilateral resolution would entail an apology from Singapore first.

Mahathir’s comments arrived in the context of warming relations between Malaysia and Thailand.

Foreign Minister Nitya Pibulsonggram told reporters on January 30 that "prior to this government, relations between our two countries were not as satisfactory as we would have liked to see," in part due to Thaksin’s policies in Southern Thailand and his unhappiness with Malaysia for allegedly helping to shield militants from the South of Thailand.  However, bilateral relations is improving as the Thai interim government pursues a different approach in the South.  Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi is scheduled to visit Bangkok on February 11 and 12.

While the Singapore-Thailand rift has yet to subside, another wave may come about from Malaysia’s post-flood actions, as the country mulls over a 1.5 billion ringgit (US$428.27 million) damage cost. 

Amid the Malaysian government’s full-scale inquiry into the cause of the floods, there were some finger-pointing at Singapore. Johor’s Datuk Abdul Ghani told the New Straits Times on January 30 that the land reclamation work by Singapore at Pulau Tekong might have contributed to the recent floods in Johor. He claimed that the narrowing of the river mouth of Sungai Johor had caused the massive destruction in Kota Tinggi, and slowed the discharge of excess rain water into the JohorStrait.

In response, Singapore's Ministry of National Development (MND) rejected Datuk Ghani's claims as unfounded and without scientific basis. MND stated that 'a coastal hydraulic study undertaken by Malaysia's Department of Irrigation and Drainage in September 2002 on the impact of Singapore's reclamation works concluded that...there is no increased flooding due to Singapore's reclamation works.'

Based on the above study and others, MND also said that ‘the Group of Experts which both governments appointed to study the impact of the reclamation works had recommended that it would not be necessary for the flood impact to be further assessed by the technical consultant appointed for the joint study. This was accepted by both governments. There is therefore no scientific basis to the allegations that the flooding is caused by Singapore's land reclamation works at Pulau Tekong.’

Deputy Prime Minister Najib intervened later by calling for a thorough study of the causes of the floods before blaming Singapore.  ‘There have been all kinds of claims, but we cannot draw conclusions without an in-depth technical study,' he said. (01/2/07)

Sources:

Malaysia says devastating floods caused losses of 1.5b ringgit (Channel News Asia, 29 January 2007)

Warm to Malaysia, cold to Singapore (TODAY, 31 January 2007)

S'pore reclamation: JB to study impact (Bernama, 31 January 2007)

M'sia says S'pore land reclamation caused floods (AP/The Straits Times, 31 January 2007)

Mahathir supports Thailand in S'pore row (Nation, 31 January 2007)