Navigating new horizons: 10th Singapore-Malaysia leaders’ retreat - Hindustan Times
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Navigating new horizons: 10th Singapore-Malaysia leaders’ retreat

ByHindustan Times
Nov 26, 2023 10:42 PM IST

This article is authored by Rahul Mishra, principal investigator, Indo-Pacific Research and Outreach Programme, Universiti Malaya, Malaysia

The 10th Singapore-Malaysia Leaders' Retreat, held in Singapore on October 29-30, 2023, symbolises the enduring and evolving relationship between the two countries. This gathering marked the first retreat since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and was led by Malaysia's Prime Minister (PM), Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim. This event holds significant importance in the bilateral ties between Singapore and Malaysia, providing a platform for discussions on various issues, exploring new avenues of cooperation, and historically resulting in important agreements.

Singapore - Malaysia relations
Singapore - Malaysia relations

These retreats, initiated in 2010 during the Najib Razak administration, have played a crucial role in overcoming historical tensions and ideological differences. They have been instrumental in resolving longstanding issues and forging new agreements, including matters related to the Malaysian Railway Lands in Singapore and the Johor-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link. These achievements underscore the retreats' role not only in addressing critical issues but also in fostering economic development and job creation, as evidenced by strong economic figures in 2022.

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During the 10th Leaders' Retreat, both nations made significant progress in various areas of collaboration. Key outcomes included enhanced support for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) with a focus on green and digital economies, advancements in personal data protection, cyber security, and digital economy initiatives. The Johor-Singapore Special Economic Zone (JSSEZ) agreement, scheduled to be signed in January 2024, aims to boost trade and people movement, strengthening the Iskandar development region.

Furthermore, progress was observed in the construction of the Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link, set to be operational by the end of 2026, greatly improving passenger transport capacity. Both countries also addressed air traffic services, agreed to review airspace management in southern peninsular Malaysia following International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards, and committed to resolving maritime boundary delimitation issues.

Discussions are ongoing regarding water prices under the 1962 Johor River Water Agreement, with a focus on ensuring sustainable water supply. Both nations pledged to strengthen cooperation in defense, combat transnational crimes, and collaborate in intellectual property. They are also working on agreements for higher education exchanges and will commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Causeway in 2024 with joint events.

PM Anwar Ibrahim's leadership has positively influenced Malaysia-Singapore relations, as he does not carry the historical baggage associated with previous leaders. This has facilitated discussions on areas of cooperation without lingering issues such as the water dispute. Anwar's recent state visit to Singapore further solidified the close relationship between the two countries.

The agreements signed by Malaysia and Singapore in January in the areas of green and digital economies hold promise for regional prosperity, with Indonesia also playing a role. The JS-SEZ has the potential to bolster the Association of South East Nations (Asean)'s economic position, creating investment opportunities and jobs. These agreements in the digital and green economy sectors will promote technological innovation and sustainability, aligning with both countries' goals of achieving carbon neutrality and net-zero emissions by 2050.

Despite challenges such as the Pedra Branca dispute and pricing issues related to the Johor River Water Agreement, the commitment to dialogue and cooperation exemplifies a balanced approach to bilateral relations. Both nations have sought to enhance cooperation in other areas despite setbacks, recognizing the potential for the revival of the KL-Singapore High-Speed Rail project in the future.

The future of Singapore-Malaysia relations centers on connectivity, economic collaboration, and environmental sustainability. The upcoming retreat in Malaysia in 2024, coinciding with the centennial of the Causeway, presents an opportunity to reflect on past achievements and chart new paths for cooperation. Ultimately, the 10th Singapore-Malaysia Leaders' Retreat represents a beacon of hope and a blueprint for future collaboration that extends beyond national boundaries to benefit the broader Asean region.

This article is authored by Rahul Mishra, principal investigator, Indo-Pacific Research and Outreach Programme, Universiti Malaya, Malaysia

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