Singapore – The end of a three-year reclamation dispute between Singapore and Malaysia has given rise to hope that other outstanding issues that have served as a drag on bilateral relations will become more amenable to a resolution.
Under a 16-point settlement agreement signed on April 26, Singapore can continue with its reclamation work in the Johor Straits as planned but will take steps to minimise the environmental impact. Singapore will also pay about S$160,000 to compensate Johor fishermen for their losses. For its part, Malaysia will drop its legal suit against Singapore.
Malaysia had earlier brought the land reclamation case before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. In October 2003, the tribunal ruled that Singaporecould continue reclamation. It also ordered both countries to appoint a group of independent experts to study the impact.
Under the agreement, both countries will share the cost of works to make two jetties in Johor more stable. They also agree to jointly monitor and exchange information of the marine environment and navigation safety in the straits.
Singapore’s Foreign Minister George Yeo said the “civil and civilised manner” in which the dispute was settled “gives us confidence that our other bilateral disputes can be settled in the same way”.
Echoing similar sentiments, his Malaysian counterpart, Mr Syed Hamid Albar, said the agreement “bears eloquent testimony to the fact that given the political will and the spirit of cooperation and compromise, even seemingly contentious issues can be amicably resolved”.
“This agreement will stand out as an exemplary mode of peaceful resolution of disputes between states," he added.
Unresolved issues between the two countries include the price of fresh water supply that Malaysia supplies to Singapore, the proposed new bridge linking Johor toSingapore, the future of Malaysia’s railway land in Singapore and the use of military airspace.
In an editorial, Malaysia’s New Straits Times (NST) cautioned that the growing diplomatic bonhomie “will not be enough to accomplish breakthroughs in negotiations over complex issues that bedevil ties between the two countries”.
However, it added, the undeniable differences between the neighbours “should lead neither to ill-feeling nor to half-hearted cooperation in vital areas like security, tourism or trade”.
For Singapore’s The Straits Times, one lesson that could be learnt from this episode is that “referral to a third party for a ruling is often the most productive means of settling disputes that have proved to be intractable. Unbiased adjudication cedes no ground to the emotionalism and the playing to the gallery that often wreck chances for a bilateral settlement”.
The Malaysians may not share the same view, though – if the NST editorial is anything to go by. It noted that there will not be many occasions “when the findings of an independent third-party intermediary can be relied up to form the basis of an amicable settlement”.
* Fair deal for both (The Straits Times, April 28)
* Reclamation row is resolved (The Straits Times, April 27)
* Reclaiming warmer ties (New Straits Times, April 26)