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S’pore agencies ordered to use restraint, avoid escalating tensions in maritime standoff: Ng Eng Hen

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s security agencies have the capability to compel intruding Malaysian government vessels to leave the Republic’s waters, but they have been ordered to use restraint for now, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in Parliament on Tuesday (Jan 15).

S’pore agencies ordered to use restraint, avoid escalating tensions in maritime standoff: Ng Eng Hen

Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen said that while Singapore’s security agencies are capable of compelling Malaysia’s vessels to get out of its waters, they have been ordered to use restraint — for now.

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s security agencies have the capability to compel intruding Malaysian government vessels to leave the Republic’s waters, but they have been ordered to use restraint for now, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in Parliament on Tuesday (Jan 15).

He was responding to questions from Members of Parliament (MPs) about the maritime dispute with Malaysia.

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MP Lee Bee Wah of Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency had asked how Singapore’s armed services react to violations of the Republic's sovereignty, and at what point they would challenge intruding ships or aircraft.

Mr Dennis Tan, a Non-Constituency MP with the Workers’ Party, had asked whether the Government would take steps to prevent other Malaysian vessels from entering the Republic’s waters.

Dr Ng responded that Singapore’s security personnel have been ordered to use restraint so far, so as not to escalate tensions with Malaysia and jeopardise the conditions necessary for constructive discussions and a peaceful resolution of the dispute.

But they will continue to press Malaysia’s ships to withdraw from Singapore’s territorial waters off Tuas in western Singapore, Dr Ng added.

“We will continue to do so as their presence does not strengthen Malaysia’s legal claims in any way, and indeed… can result in mishaps or regrettable incidents,” he added.

Echoing Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan’s comments in Parliament a day earlier, Dr Ng said Johor Chief Minister Osman Sapian’s recent visit to a Malaysian vessel anchored illegally in Singapore’s waters was “provocative and escalatory, and contradict the officially stated policy of the Malaysian government”.

It also raised tensions and real risks, he noted.

Photos: Singapore Police Force

Singapore’s security agencies had detected early the movement of the chief minister’s entourage and responded promptly, “as they had to”, he said.

As a result, the total number of vessels in the area more than doubled.

“These provocations do nothing to help resolve disputes, and indeed, can precipitate incidents on the ground, which will do lasting harm to bilateral ties,” Dr Ng added.

Mr Osman’s visit on Jan 9 to Pedoman, a vessel from the Marine Department Malaysia, prompted Singapore to issue a diplomatic note to Malaysia, protesting the “provocative act”.

The visit also led to the postponement of a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia — an economic region in south Johor — originally scheduled for Monday.

Dr Ng noted that the Malaysian government has assured it would take measures to de-escalate the tensions in the Tuas waters.

“We hope that all Malaysian agencies will abide by this stated policy,” he said.

Read also

ABOUT THE MARITIME STANDOFF

On Oct 25 last year, Malaysia extended unilaterally its Johor Baru port limits into Singapore’s territorial waters off Tuas.

The extension went beyond even Malaysia’s own territorial sea claims according to its 1979 map, which Singapore has rejected consistently, Dr Balakrishnan has said.

Malaysian government vessels have since intruded into Singapore’s maritime waters.

In response, Singapore extended on Dec 6 its own port limits off Tuas. Singapore argues that this was done in accordance with international law, and that the new port limits remain well within Singapore’s waters.

On Jan 8, the two countries agreed to set up a working group to de-escalate tensions surrounding the maritime borders. It will report to Dr Balakrishnan and his Malaysian counterpart, Mr Saifuddin Abdullah, in two months.

If negotiations are unsuccessful, Singapore is prepared to settle such disputes by recourse to an appropriate international third-party dispute-settlement procedure. .embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }

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