Fast track to economic union?
The Feb 19 announcement of a high-speed rail (HSR) link between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, with a commute of only 90 minutes, has raised the prospect of closer economic integration between the two cities. Speculation has led some to wonder whether the trajectory could even lead, eventually, to an economic union between Singapore and Malaysia.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak whet appetites on both sides of the Causeway when they disclosed their agreement in-principle to pursue the HSR link by 2020.
It is the most exciting joint proposal to have come from the two countries in many years.
Both leaders conjured up the image of “twin cities” and a “virtual urban community” in which people “can go up there, do business, meet friends, have a meal, and come back all the way at the end of the day”.
Indeed, Singapore and KL could be akin to what London and Paris are to each other, linked by the Eurostar train across the English Channel. It promises to be the most impactful bilateral project, as the benefits of improved ties will percolate down to the people level.
Singaporeans and Malaysians will feel the power of better relations as they get to move more swiftly between the two cities, opening up vistas for unprecedented interaction. In the longer term, these will have a positive effect on political ties. This is what ASEAN leaders mean when they talk of “connectivity”: Borders become porous and countries seamless, as key nodes of society and community get linked by land, air and sea. What may follow is social, cultural, economic and political interconnectedness.
TWO CITIES, ONE ECONOMY?
Most significantly, the proposal promises to be hugely substantive in terms of bringing about economic integration. Greater mobility will lead to growing ease of doing business, opening up a host of economic opportunities from greater tourism to property booms.