PM Lawrence Wong at the Q&A Segment of the Joint Press Conference with Malaysian PM Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim (Jun 2024)

Transcript of remarks by Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong at the Q&A segment during the joint press conference with Malaysian Prime Minister Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim in Kuala Lumpur on 12 June 2024. PM Wong was in Malaysia as part of a series of introductory visits to Southeast Asian capitals. The Q&A segment begins at the 9:18 timestamp in the video.


CNA: Good afternoon Prime Ministers. For Prime Minister Wong, this is your first visit here as Prime Minister. What are your key priorities for strengthening Singapore-Malaysia relations? And in the same vein, Dato’ Sri, how do you think this bilateral relationship will evolve with PM Wong’s new administration?

PM Lawrence Wong: For me, what is important at this beginning having just taken over, is not so much to talk about priorities in terms of projects or agenda items, but to focus on the human relationship and to build a good relationship with my counterpart, Prime Minister Anwar. Because trust is everything — when there is trust, especially between leaders, we can get many things done. That is why I am very glad that I had the chance. I thank once again Prime Minister Anwar for inviting me to have an early visit here, hosting me to a meal and having the opportunity to have a very candid conversation with him.

We were able to establish that strong rapport and trust with each other, and that will allow us to send a clear message to our ministers and officials that we want them to negotiate, discuss the outstanding issues in the right spirit. Do it in a way that will enable both sides to achieve win-win outcomes. Even when there are differences amongst us, that is okay, but always focus on the larger picture and on the overall relationship. So with that attitude and mindset, I am confident – whether it is on outstanding issues, whether it is existing projects or even new projects – as long as both sides have that attitude and mindset, I am very confident that we can take our relationship further, and we can really bring our two countries closer together. Because the more we cooperate, the more we do things together, the more we will enlarge our economic space, and it will ultimately benefit both countries and both our peoples.

Bernama: I have a question for Prime Minister Wong. How would you describe the current state of Singapore-Malaysia relations, your approach to it and what are the top priorities going into the annual retreat this year? Will it include the high-speed rail?

PM Wong: I would say our bilateral ties are in very good shape and progressing very well, and there is potential for us to do even more together going forward. I am building on a very strong foundation by my predecessors — PM Anwar had a very good relationship with then-PM Lee Hsien Loong, now Senior Minister, and I am building on that and continuing with that relationship at the leadership level.

But we want it to also extend beyond the leadership to government agencies, to our civil servants, to our ministers, and that is why we want to send the right message to all our agencies – continue to interact, continue to work together, discuss in the right spirit and find ways to resolve outstanding issues, but importantly, identify new areas of cooperation. And these new opportunities extend beyond the government too; it extends beyond the civil service; it includes the private sector; it includes NGOs; it includes civil society; it includes our universities and our teachers. So whatever new ideas there are, we want to find ways in which we can really bring our two countries together. Because I believe there is a lot of potential for Malaysia and Singapore to provide the strong anchor for a more dynamic and competitive Southeast Asian region. Together, we can make this happen.

On the upcoming Leaders’ Retreat, we hope to take stock of the progress of the discussions that have been going on. There are workstreams and mechanisms that officials on both sides are discussing, and we hope to take stock and see good progress being made. Of course, along the way, there may be new ideas that come up. We are open to hearing from Malaysia if there are proposals from the high-speed rail as well, and whatever the new ideas are, we will keep an open mind and we will discuss it in the right spirit of taking our relationship forward.

Straits Times: Both of you mentioned the outstanding issues of water, airspace and maritime boundaries. I am wondering, did you discuss any strategic change in addressing these issues such as a holistic package? Also, is there any timeline you have in mind? Thank you.

PM Wong: I told Prime Minister Anwar that I will be happy to come anytime if it helps to accelerate the resolution of these outstanding issues. But there is a work stream, there are platforms following from the last Leaders’ Retreat which the officials are now discussing. It was a good opportunity for both of us today to touch base, take stock of what is outstanding, but also to give guidance to the officials to continue their discussions in a constructive manner, and do so in a way that also bears in mind the importance of the overall relationship. Whatever differences we may have on these issues should not affect or colour how we treat the overall relationship, and certainly should not detract from the possibilities of pursuing new areas of cooperation. So that is the spirit which we have in thinking and addressing these issues. We look forward to being able to at least, even if we cannot resolve completely, see very good progress across all of them by the time we meet together at the upcoming Leaders’ Retreat.

Astro Awani: I have one question for Dato’ Sri. With Malaysia chairing ASEAN in 2025, what are the discussions and focus to advance the agenda for regional cooperation? Maybe Mr Lawrence can comment on ASEAN Chairmanship by Malaysia. Also one more regarding Johor and Singapore, how do you envision the greater Singapore-Johor region becoming a new economic hub in the region? And what initiatives do you foresee to enhance the economic integration? That is all, thank you.

PM Wong: Well, I am very excited about the potential for the Johor-Singapore economic zone. We know what it takes to have a good SEZ (Special Economic Zone). I mean, you can see successful SEZs around the world. There are certain key ingredients that are needed to make a successful one, and Johor and Singapore have all the ingredients to make a very successful economic zone. The projects we have, including the RTS (Rapid Transit System), are major game changers, which can really tap on the complementarities between Malaysia and Johor and Singapore.

People harp a lot on the competition, but really we are complementing one another, and the bigger competition is outside of Singapore-Malaysia and outside of the region. If we can press forward with good master planning, clear and consistent policies around the SEZ, with the RTS coming alongside, I think it will unlock a lot of economic benefits for both sides, for both our peoples, and we can really realise the potential of this collaboration.

What we are doing between Singapore and Malaysia and between Johor and Singapore is also in many ways what ASEAN ought to be doing to strengthen our economic integration as one community. I am very hopeful that Malaysia and Singapore can provide that strong anchor for a stronger and more integrated ASEAN community.

I remember 20 years ago, we were talking about ASEAN. We said: Asia is taking off – this will be the Asian century. There is China, there is India, and we were very worried ASEAN would be left behind. Well, 20 years have passed. Where are we now? It is a very different world — the geopolitical environment is different. China has certainly accelerated in the last 20 years. India is on the move very rapidly – a lot of momentum. ASEAN has made some progress. We should not belittle that. But I think there is still a lot of scope for us to come together and work even more closely together.

Singapore will fully support Malaysia’s chairmanship of ASEAN, and we hope to be able to work together to set an ambitious and forward-looking agenda for ASEAN for the next 10 to 20 years ahead.

Foreign affairs