Joint Statement by PM Lee Hsien Loong and PM Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim at the 10th Singapore-Malaysia Leaders' Retreat

SM Lee Hsien Loong | 30 October 2023

Joint Statement by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Prime Minister Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim at the 10th Singapore-Malaysia Leaders' Retreat in Singapore on 30 October 2023.


Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim met in Singapore on 30 October 2023 for the 10th Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat. On the occasion of this milestone, the Leaders reaffirmed their strong commitment to this annual engagement platform to discuss ways to enhance bilateral cooperation and issues of mutual concern. This is their first Retreat together and the first Retreat that Singapore and Malaysia have held since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recognising the deep geographical, historical, and economic links that underpin bilateral ties, the Leaders acknowledged the importance of the longstanding and multi-faceted relationship between both countries, guided by principles of mutual respect and trust. The high volume of visits and exchanges since the borders reopened in April 2022 demonstrates both countries’ commitment to maintaining regular channels of communication, as well as continually investing in and growing this unique relationship, especially amidst a more complex geopolitical environment and increasing global uncertainty. The Leaders reiterated their commitment to deepening cooperation in traditional pillars, expanding collaboration in emerging areas, and resolving any issues of concern in an amicable and constructive manner.

The Leaders reiterated the importance of ASEAN as a platform for regional cooperation. ASEAN’s resilience and centrality are crucial. Both Leaders stressed the need for ASEAN to remain relevant and united in dealing with regional and global challenges. The Leaders reaffirmed ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus and the ASEAN Leaders’ Review and Decision on the Implementation of the Five-Point Consensus as ASEAN’s position on the situation in Myanmar.

Singapore and Malaysia have always been major economic partners. The strong and stable cooperation across trade and investment continued as both countries emerged from the pandemic. Singapore and Malaysia continued to be each other’s second largest trading partner in 2022, with bilateral trade reaching a significant USD 83.53 billion in 2022. Singapore was also one of Malaysia’s top sources of foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2022, contributing 8.3% of Malaysia’s total FDI for that year. Both Leaders welcomed further efforts to enhance economic cooperation, including the Frameworks on Cooperation (FoC) in Digital Economy and Green Economy signed in January 2023. The inaugural Annual Ministerial Dialogue (AMD) between Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and Malaysia’s Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry (MITI) held in Malaysia on 14 June 2023 reviewed the progress of the FoC. This covered issues such as the launch of a cross-border QR code payment linkage between Singapore and Malaysia in March 2023, the good progress by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) on the real-time payment systems linkage between PayNow and DuitNow, and the launch of the Capacity Development Programme for Exporters aimed at supporting exporters’ sustainability transition led by Enterprise Singapore and Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE).

Singapore and Malaysia enterprises enjoy close ties and complementary partnerships. The Leaders witnessed the signing of a side letter to update the Malaysia-Singapore Business Development Fund (MSBDF). This will provide funding support for Singapore and Malaysia enterprises to jointly pursue opportunities in third countries and conduct joint pilots in each other’s countries, especially in emerging areas such as green economy and digital economy. The Leaders took note of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Collaboration on Development of Malaysia and Singapore SMEs signed between Enterprise Singapore and SME Corporation Malaysia. The Leaders also warmly welcomed the progress made on the MOU on Personal Data Protection, Cybersecurity and Digital Economy signed in January 2023. These instruments demonstrate the confidence of both countries in each other’s economies and the commitment to strengthening bilateral economic links.

The Leaders expressed their satisfaction with the ongoing cooperation under the purview of the Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia (JMCIM) and welcomed the progress made by the respective Industrial Cooperation, Immigration, Transportation Links, Innovation, Tourism, and Environment Work Groups. The Leaders noted the establishment of a special taskforce under JMCIM to study a Johor-Singapore Special Economic Zone (JS-SEZ) and noted the progress update provided by the taskforce at the Retreat. The JS-SEZ will tap into the complementary strengths of both countries to foster economic connectivity by improving cross-border flows of goods, investments, and people. The Leaders welcomed plans to work towards an MOU on the JS-SEZ to be signed in January 2024. The Leaders also commended the Industrial Cooperation Work Group and agencies from both countries for working together closely to facilitate high-profile investments into and creating jobs in Iskandar Malaysia. Singapore is the second largest foreign investor in Iskandar Malaysia, with SGD 9.5 billion or RM 33 billion worth of investments committed between 2006 and June 2023.

The Immigration and Transportation Links Work Groups have worked closely to strengthen infrastructure and cross-border connectivity between Singapore and Johor. Transport agencies from both countries also made progress in strengthening their transport links and improving commuters’ experience, by increasing the frequency of cross-border bus services and introducing new ferry services. The Leaders reaffirmed their commitment to improve connectivity between Singapore and Malaysia and ease congestion at the land borders. They encouraged officials from both countries to continually exchange ideas to improve the efficiency and experience of cross-border travel for their peoples. Both Leaders also welcomed the efforts made by agencies from both countries to address congestion at the land border, and noted Singapore’s plans to redevelop Woodlands Checkpoint to further smoothen cross-border movement of people and goods.

The Leaders welcomed the good progress made in the ongoing construction of the Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link. The RTS Link will connect Bukit Chagar in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and Woodlands North in Singapore with a peak capacity of 10,000 passengers per hour in each direction. The RTS Link is a mutually beneficial project which will alleviate congestion along the Causeway and further strengthen connectivity between Malaysia and Singapore. Both Leaders expressed confidence in the commencement of the RTS Link service by the end of 2026 and looked forward to attending the ceremony in early 2024 to commemorate the historic completion of the drop-in span, which will connect both sides of the marine viaduct. Both Leaders instructed their officials to continue working closely together to bring the RTS Link Project to fruition.

The Leaders commended the efforts by the Innovation Work Group to deepen the links between the start-up networks of both countries, encourage activities to accelerate the development of start-ups in both countries, and exchange knowledge on talent cultivation and emerging technologies such as autonomous vehicles and drones. Malaysia’s Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) and the Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA) will be showcasing start-ups from Malaysia in this year’s Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology (SWITCH). These initiatives will enhance human capital in both countries, strengthen ties between their peoples, and enhance collaboration on innovation.

The Leaders noted the good progress made by the Tourism Work Group on the recovery of the tourism industry post-COVID-19. Tourism flows have rebounded strongly since borders reopened. Tourism agencies from both countries will continue to explore new opportunities to promote cross-border travel and people-to-people exchanges. The Leaders encouraged the Tourism Work Group to continue sharing ideas and expertise, and to explore potential joint initiatives and marketing projects to promote cross-border travel.

The Leaders noted the commitment to sustainable development and welcomed the efforts of the Environment Work Group to conduct capacity-building activities through joint workshops for government and industry players.

The Leaders welcomed the close inter-agency cooperation on transboundary environmental issues through platforms such as the Malaysia-Singapore Annual Exchange of Visits (MSAEV) and the Malaysia-Singapore Joint Committee on the Environment (MSJCE). In 2023, agencies on both sides conducted a joint emergency response exercise at the Second Crossing to enhance coordination on emergency responses to chemical spill incidents. The Leaders encouraged the MSJCE to continue efforts to promote cross-border environmental protection through joint exercises and capacity-building.

The Leaders agreed to review the delegation arrangements for the provision of air traffic services over Southern Peninsular Malaysia, which were recommended and approved by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in 1973 and implemented through the Operational Letter of Agreement between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore Area Control Centres concerning Singapore Arrivals, Departures and Overflights 1974. This review shall be in accordance with ICAO’s requirements for safe and efficient air traffic management as well as accommodate both countries’ current and future operational needs. Both Leaders tasked the respective Transport Ministers to deliberate and agree on a set of principles and outcomes to guide both civil aviation authorities to move forward as expeditiously as possible.

The Leaders looked forward to the convening of the 1st Joint Meeting of the Malaysia-Singapore Joint Technical Committee on the Implementation of the International Court of Justice Judgment on Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge and the Committee for Boundary Delimitation Pursuant to the Agreement between the Foreign Ministers of Singapore and Malaysia on 14 March 2019 (1st Joint MSJTC and CBD Meeting) to resolve outstanding bilateral maritime boundary delimitation issues.

The Leaders noted the good progress made at the 1st Meeting of the Technical Working Group on the Agreement between the Government of Malaysia and the Government of the Republic of Singapore to Delimit Precisely the Territorial Waters Boundary in accordance with the Straits Settlements and Johore Territorial Waters Agreement 1927 (1995 Agreement), held in June 2023, and looked forward to the convening of the 2nd Meeting of the Technical Working Group with a view to determining the actual location of the points of the international boundary pursuant to the 1995 Agreement.

The Leaders reaffirmed their commitments as provided for in the 1962 Johore River Water Agreement (62WA). Both Leaders agreed to reconvene the MSE-NRECC Joint Technical Committee to resume discussions on measures to safeguard the water quality, as well as increase the yield of the Johore River, to ensure its sustainable supply to the extent required by the 62WA. The Leaders also agreed that both countries will resume discussions on the raw and treated water prices, without prejudice to each other’s respective long-declared positions on the right to review the prices under the 62WA. They further expressed their appreciation to the Singapore and Johor water authorities for their ongoing close cooperation on water issues. The Leaders encouraged the water authorities to maintain their excellent working relationship and looked forward to more areas of collaboration between the two countries.

As both countries work towards a low-carbon future, the Leaders affirmed the commitment to collaborate on renewable energy co-development and cross-border electricity trading. The Leaders acknowledged the recently signed MOU between Singapore Power and Tenaga Nasional Berhad to explore the technical feasibility of a second interconnector. The Plentong-Woodlands Interconnector had been upgraded in October 2022 to facilitate bidirectional electricity flows of approximately 1000 MW between the two countries. These efforts will further enhance energy security and enable greater renewable energy integration. Both Leaders also took the opportunity to reiterate their countries’ shared goal of strengthening regional interconnectivity through multilateral cross-border electricity trading initiatives such as the Lao PDR-Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore Power Integration Project (LTMS-PIP) and the ASEAN Power Grid.

Both Leaders also looked forward to energy collaboration on other fronts, such as the sharing of low-carbon and renewable energy technologies, carbon capture and storage, and carbon credits. In this regard, both Leaders noted the ongoing discussions for Singapore to import renewable energy from Sarawak in which the Federal Government of Malaysia will give its assistance in accelerating the process.

Both Leaders underscored the importance of maintaining close defence cooperation given the increasing global security challenges. The Leaders emphasised the importance of continuing both countries’ contribution to regional security through knowledge sharing and exchanges at various multilateral initiatives and fora, including the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA), the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) and the ADMM-Plus, the Malacca Straits Patrol (MSP), and the Counter-Terrorism Information Facility (CTIF).

Both Leaders emphasised the need for close cooperation between both countries to combat the rise of transnational crime. The close cooperation has enabled both countries to prevent, detect, and disrupt various transnational crime threats. For example, joint operations between the Singapore Police Force and the Royal Malaysia Police have been successful in dismantling several scam syndicates. Singapore and Malaysia stand together against transnational crime and will continue to work closely together in our efforts to combat transnational crime. Both Leaders acknowledged that the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation to Fight against Illicit Trafficking of Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances has expired and have agreed to continue the existing cooperation. The Leaders noted plans to work towards an MOU on preventing and combatting transnational crimes.

Recognising that Intangible Assets (IA) and Intellectual Property (IP) have become key drivers of economic growth, the Leaders took note of the inaugural Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) on IP cooperation signed between the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) and the Intellectual Property Corporation of Malaysia (MyIPO), which included patent-related programmes to better support innovators and businesses seeking to enter both markets.

The Leaders noted that an MOU in the Field of Higher Education is currently being discussed by Singapore’s Ministry of Education and Malaysia’s Ministry of Higher Education. This MOU will strengthen student and faculty exchanges, encourage exchange of scholarships between recognised higher education institutions, and promote the sharing of information and experiences in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and other aspects of higher education, including training programmes for administrators and academic staff.

The Leaders acknowledged the cultural and people-to-people links that form the foundation of the strong ties between both countries. The Leaders noted the successful run of the Malaysia-Singapore Triennial Cultural Showcase (TCS) that was held from 6 to 8 October 2023 in Singapore. The inaugural TCS was launched in 2019 in Kuala Lumpur and has deepened the exchange of culture and heritage between Singapore and Malaysia.

The Leaders noted that the Causeway will mark its centennial anniversary in 2024. They welcomed efforts by both countries to mark this key milestone in connectivity between Singapore and Malaysia, including through joint events, performances, and showcases.

The Leaders agreed to hold the 11th Retreat in 2024 in Malaysia.

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