Singapore diplomats call out Malaysia for making claim on land, then asking Singapore to leave that land for peace talks to happen

This photograph taken on June 6, 2018 shows vessels anchored along the southern strait of Singapore. (Photo by Roslan RAHMAN / AFP)

The latest twist in Malaysia’s claim over Singapore seas in Tuas has taken a turn towards choppy waters after Singapore diplomats called out Malaysia for asking Singapore to leave its own waters before engaging in peace talks.

In a statement released Friday evening (Dec 8), Malaysian foreign minister Saifuddin Abdullah urged both countries to engage in a “cease-and-desist” by leaving the “disputed area” by Friday midnight “pending discussions on outstanding maritime boundary issues.”

However, this comment did not go well with retired diplomat Bilahari Kausikan who took to his Facebook page just a minute before the supposed cease-and-desist was to be put in place.

In his post, he said that Singapore is not daft and pointed out Minister Abdullah’s “chutzpah”.

“You create a problem; when we respond to defend our interests, you say that the solution to the problem you created in the first place is for us to cease defending our interests and to accept equal responsibility for the problem!” said Bilahari. “Sorry, bro. Good try but no cigar.”

Bilahari’s comments were echoed by Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing on Saturday as he said to local media that “even laymen can see that this cannot be right.”

“You made a claim. You send forces in. You ask Singapore to leave as conditions to start talks? How can this be?” he said in a report by The Straits Times.

Minister Chan also urged Malaysia to go back to the border agreement before October 25 to calm the situation down as there may be added risks because accidents could happen among armed ships.

“The ground situation is tense. The ships are in close proximity with one another and we know that some ships are armed, so the risk of escalation cannot be underestimated. Accidents might happen,” he said to Channel NewsAsia.

The claim is reminiscent of similar ones made in the past, when Malaysia staked its claim on Pedra Branca, an offshore island that Singapore was managing before Malaysia placed a unilateral claim on it.

“Just when we are working on a fresh start with the new Malaysia government, we find the pattern repeating again,” he said in a video published by The Straits Times.

In response to Minister Abdullah, Facebook page SMRT Feedback by The Vigilanteh probably has the most prescient response to date, stopping short of preparing a survival kit:

The timeline

On October 25, Malaysia published a Declaration of Alteration of Port Limits for Johor Baru Port on its Federal Government Gazette, changing port limits on Tuas waters.

Singapore published two Third Party Notes on November 5 and 29 protesting documents released by Malaysia to inform ships about the extended Johor Baru port limits.

On December 6, Singapore extended its port limits off Tuas, with Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan reporting that there had been 14 intrusions into Singapore waters in the past two weeks. A circular was released by Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority documenting this change.

On December 7, Malaysian foreign minister Saifuddin Abdullah published a “cease-and-desist” letter calling for both countries to leave the disputed waters pending peace talks.

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