SINGAPORE — Despite newly-minted Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s frosty attitude towards Singapore in the past, diplomats, international relations experts and other observers believe that the new Malaysian government will build a positive and mutually beneficial relationship with the Republic.
Nevertheless, they cited the possibility of delays or revisions to agreed terms regarding ongoing bilateral projects such as the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) — which is said to cost up to RM50 billion (S$16 billion) — and the Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link between Johor Baru and Singapore.
These are to be expected as the new administration reviews the country’s deals with other countries struck by the previous government, said the observers.
While some of them felt there is a chance that the projects could be called off, others said this was highly unlikely as they are governed by agreements and beneficial to Malaysians too.
Ambassador-at-Large Ong Keng Yong, who was Singapore’s High Commissioner to Malaysia from 2011 to 2014, said he expects “some adjustments” in the Mahathir-led government’s approach towards foreign relations, but many ongoing bilateral projects have already been “covered by respective agreements with positive, welcoming sentiments (from the Malaysians)”.
“The fact is that many aspects of the HSR agreements have already been discussed (and agreed upon) between Malaysia and Singapore over the last two years. We should look forward to working with the new government in Malaysia to bring forward what is mutually beneficial for both countries,” Mr Ong said.
Dr Cassey Lee, who coordinates the Malaysia Studies Programme at the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, said the new government’s resolve to come down hard on corruption and strengthen the rule of law represent a “convergence” between Singapore and Malaysia.
“I am optimistic that the bilateral relations between the two countries will improve. The new government emphasises rule of law and governance. These are values that are dear and valued by Singapore,” he said.