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Malaysia calls for stronger bilateral relations with Singapore

Updated On: Dec 01, 2006

Malaysia Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak appealed to intensify cooperation with Singapore in the face of growing global competition.

“We must raise our political will to work together where we can and accommodate each other in areas where we cannot… We have no real choice, the economic logic is clear and we must build the necessary partnerships in order to take advantage of new opportunities present within the region…For Malaysia and Singapore, the stakes are high. We are no longer the darling of foreign investors as we were in the previous decade,” said DPM Najib as he addressed a Malaysia-Singapore Business regional conference organized by the London Business School Alumni Club in Kuala Lumpur early this week.

He warned that rising China and India coupled with the booming economies of Asean such as Vietnam and Thailand may cause Singapore and Malaysia to “risk being torn apart by the competition” if we choose to remain aloof.

Observers have attributed the urgency of the message to the drop in foreign direct investment (FDI) in Malaysia since 2003. The other agenda for Mr. Najib is to highlight the number and size of acquisitions of Malaysia’s assets by Singapore entities, especially those controlled by the Singapore government, which had far outweighed the acquisitions of Singapore companies by Malaysians. He urged Singapore to “show a greater degree of reciprocity” to achieve equitable partnership by facilitating more acquisitions of assets in Singapore by Malaysia companies.

While Malaysia and Singapore remain each other’s largest foreign investor among Asean countries, with bilateral trade accounting for over 70% of the total intra-Asean trade and expected to grow, social and political relations have not been on the rosy side. Disputes since the 1960s have ranged from the price of water to airspace use and territorial disagreements. Recently, there was a spate of remarks and exchanges over Singapore Minister Mentor’s statement on Malaysia andIndonesia “systematically marginalizing their Chinese minorities”.

A political analyst, Dr Ooi Kee Beng calls the conciliatory statements by Mr. Najib a “pleasant shock” but was concerned that the statements could be construed as him bowing to pressure from Singapore. London Business School Professor Stopford expressed a little skepticism in the relations and felt that “there’s still a long way to go if we want to see Malaysian and Singaporean corporations and Governments repositioning themselves to compete in the global environment.”

Sources:

Najib presses S’pore button (Today, 28 November 2006)

M’sia wants greater reciprocity from Singapore (The Edge Daily, 27 November 2006)

Allow Malaysia acquire more assets in Singapore: Najib (Malaysia Business Times, 27 November 2006)

Malaysia seeks to ease rivalry with Singapore (The Star, 27 November 2006)

Malaysia and Singapore should join forces to face globalization (The Star, 28 November 2006)

Malaysia seeks to ease rivalry, deepen cooperation with Singapore (International Herald Tribune, Asia Pacific, 27 November 2006)