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PM Lee to meet Dr Mahathir at two-day retreat in Malaysia

PUTRAJAYA — Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will make a two-day visit to Malaysia from Monday (April 8) to attend a leaders’ retreat hosted by his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad, with several unresolved bilateral issues on the agenda.

PM Lee to meet Dr Mahathir at two-day retreat in Malaysia

The ninth Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat will be the first such retreat between the two leaders since Dr Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan coalition swept to power in May last year.

PUTRAJAYA — Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will make a two-day visit to Malaysia from Monday (April 8) to attend a leaders’ retreat hosted by his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad, with several unresolved bilateral issues on the agenda.

The ninth Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat was to have taken place in November last year, but was postponed.

It will be the first such retreat between the two leaders since Dr Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan coalition swept to power in May last year.

On Tuesday morning, the two prime ministers will hold a bilateral meeting, followed by a delegation meeting with their accompanying government ministers and senior officials, Singapore’s Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said in a statement.

Dr Mahathir and his wife Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali will then host Mr Lee, his wife Ho Ching and the Singapore delegation to lunch.

“The annual leaders’ retreat is an important platform for the Prime Ministers of both countries to discuss bilateral issues and explore new areas of co-operation,” the PMO added.

Last Friday, Dr Mahathir told reporters that he would discuss unresolved bilateral issues in a “friendly” manner with Mr Lee at the retreat.

“All of the things that are still unresolved, including the water problem, the Central Provident Fund, the borderline with our waters — what is Singapore waters? What is Malaysia waters? The flight over our area, who is going to control it,” he had said.

Asked why the Central Provident Fund might be discussed at the retreat, Mr Lee’s press secretary Chang Li Lin said that she did not have further details.

SIGNS OF RAPPROCHEMENT

The leaders’ retreat comes amid ongoing bilateral issues over water, maritime boundaries and airspace, but tensions appear to have eased somewhat lately.

On Monday, Malaysia and Singapore mutually suspended their overlapping port limits, with both countries reverting to earlier limits.

Last Saturday, the two countries announced that Singapore had withdrawn its Instrument Landing System (ILS) procedures for Seletar Airport and Malaysia would suspend indefinitely its permanent Restricted Area over Pasir Gudang town in Johor Baru.

The agreement came into effect last Friday, which means that Malaysian airline Firefly can begin flights to Seletar Airport from this month.

The short-haul carrier was originally slated to move its operations from Changi Airport to Seletar Airport on Dec 1 last year, but the Malaysian authorities did not give it the green light. 

Malaysia had protested that Singapore's plan to roll out ILS procedures at Seletar Airport would encroach into its airspace and hamper development in Pasir Gudang.

An ILS guides aircraft to stay on a specific descent path and tells them the descending angle.

Political scientist Bilveer Singh said that the latest move over the airspace issue pointed to “signs of rapprochement” between the two countries.

This is necessary because Singapore and Malaysia “depend on each other so badly”, said Associate Professor Singh, who is with the National University of Singapore. 

“Our relationship is indivisible. You can quarrel, (but) at the end of the day, we both lose.”

On the significance of the leaders’ retreat, Assoc Prof Singh said it was critically important that the prime ministers continue to talk to each other, which will reduce the “toxicity” between the two sides.

The professor noted that key personalities, rather than institutions, determine the Singapore-Malaysia relationship.

“If there is an issue and you want to resolve it, then the two bosses must talk,” he added.

“The significance is the potential of a breakthrough, the potential of understanding each other, and of where the obstacles are.”

Nine government ministers will join Mr Lee on the trip.

They are Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Communications and Information Minister S Iswaran, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, and Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli.

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