PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Joint Press Conference at the 9th Singapore-Malaysia Leaders' Retreat

PM Lee Hsien Loong | 9 April 2019

Remarks by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Joint Press Conference with Malaysian PM Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad at the 9th Singapore-Malaysia Leaders' Retreat on 9 April 2019 in Putrajaya. PM Lee's remarks begin at the 9:30 timestamp in the video.


Thank you Tun Mahathir, ladies and gentlemen. I would like to thank the Prime Minister and the Malaysian government for their very warm hospitality on our first bilateral leaders’ retreat together.

Bilateral Relations

Our relationship between the two countries is rooted in our long history, and strong family and business ties. This has remained unchanged even with the new Malaysian government. We have worked hard to strengthen these ties and to overcome issues which have risen, for example, when Malaysia informed us of their wish to review the KL-Singapore High Speed Rail, we worked out a suspension arrangement together.

Today, the Prime Minister and I affirmed our commitment to a cooperative and forward-looking bilateral relationship. We also addressed current bilateral issues, including maritime boundaries and airspace. 

Maritime Boundaries

On maritime boundaries we have made progress to de-escalate the situation at sea, and avoid further incidents. The two foreign ministers agreed to implement several measures and this has been done. With this implementation we are commencing negotiations on the boundary delimitation within a month. 


On airspace, Malaysia has suspended its Restricted Area over Pasir Gudang, while Singapore has withdrawn the Instrument Landing System procedures at Seletar Airport. This clears the way for Malaysia’s Firefly airline to start services to Seletar Airport, which I understand the inaugural flight will be on the 21st of April.

Malaysia has also stated its intention to review the existing arrangements for air traffic services provision over southern Peninsular Malaysia. Singapore is ready to discuss this matter with Malaysia. Key considerations are the safety and efficiency of air traffic operations, and the needs and interests of both countries. I told Dr Mahathir this is a complex matter that will involve consulting many stakeholders, including airlines and ICAO, and it cannot easily be rushed.

Civil aviation is growing rapidly in both our countries. KLIA and Changi are major regional airports, each serving more than 60 million passengers a year. The volume will grow and as I told the ministers, I think KLIA has greater capacity to grow than Changi because Changi is building a third runway and I think that is the limit. Whereas KLIA already has three runways and has space to build five. So what we have will grow and it is important for both countries that this growth be facilitated and be enabled to take place safely and that is in both countries’ interest. Therefore, we will work with Malaysia to review the airspace delegation arrangements, with this in mind. 


I also discussed with Tun Mahathir the issue of water. He had raised this with me last November and our respective positions are well known. Singapore’s position is that Malaysia has lost its right to review the water price but we agreed last November that our two Attorney-Generals would meet to understand each other’s legal positions. This time, I told Dr Mahathir that the Attorney-Generals have met and they will continue meeting and I think they will make progress. But from Singapore’s point of view, there are two concerns that we have concerning Johor water. Firstly, pollution. Just last week the PUB waterworks at Kota Tinggi had to shut down because of high ammonia levels. The source was traced to a palm oil mill in Sedenak, in the catchment area. If the Johor River suffers an incident like that, which happened in Sungei Kim Kim recently, it will be disastrous for both countries. That is one concern we have. 

The other concern is the long term sustainable yield of the Johor River. Johor has built water plants on the river, upstream of PUB’s waterworks at Kota Tinggi. One is Loji Air, the other one is the Semangar water treatment plant. These plants combined plus the Kota Tinggi waterworks belonging to PUB, draw from the Johor River, quite possibly more water than the river can sustain. So we need to study how to meet both Johor and Singapore’s water requirements for the remainder of the Water Agreement. 

It is in both countries’ interests to work together to ensure sustainable water supply for both sides because this will reduce the potential for conflict between the two countries. We agreed that our two AGs should continue their dialogue to understand each other’s perspectives and concerns. Dr Mahathir said he has also asked Minister Saifuddin to be responsible for this matter on the Malaysian side and I said my Foreign Minister Vivian will discuss this matter with Minister Saifuddin.


Tun Mahathir and I also discussed our ongoing connectivity projects on the JB-Singapore Rapid Transit System Link. Minister Anthony Loke has told Minister Khaw Boon Wan that while Malaysia still supports such a link, they wish to request to suspend the project for six months to assess their options. I understand Malaysia’s position. We have tasked our AGs to work out a supplemental agreement quickly to give effect to the suspension, similar to what we did for the HSR suspension last year. We also discussed the broader question of congestion at the causeway. As Dr Mahathir pointed out that the RTS Link will not solve the problem of motorcyclist who come into Singapore. I said, yes we have to expand the capacity of the CIQs on both sides to process the people who are crossing because the numbers will grow. Singapore has plans to expand our CIQ further and these are things which will take some time but they will eventually make a significant dent in the problem. 

For the HSR, the Suspension Agreement runs until May next year. Singapore continues to see this as a good project. But we understand why Malaysia needs time to review the cost and the alternative options. We look forward to receiving a proposal from Malaysia soon, so as to be able to work with them to find a way forward that will work for both countries.

Other Bilateral Cooperation

Beyond these topical bilateral issues, the broader Singapore-Malaysia relationship continues to grow. We are each other’s second-largest trading partner. Our ties between business communities remain strong. The Singapore Manufacturing Federation is renewing its MOU of collaboration with the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers. The Joint Ministerial Committee on Iskandar Malaysia, chaired by Minister Azmin Ali and Minister Lawrence Wong, are working to further cooperation on multiple fronts. 


As close neighbours, Singapore and Malaysia must expect issues to arise between us from time to time. But provided we can address them in a constructive spirit, we can manage the problems, contain the side-effects and work towards win-win outcomes. I would like to thank Prime Minister Mahathir again for his warm hospitality. This year Singapore is commemorating our Bicentennial. It is 200 years since Sir Stamford Raffles landed in Singapore and the history of modern Singapore began. We will be holding a special National Day Parade at the Padang. I am very glad that Tun Mahathir and Tun Siti Hasmah accepted my invitation to visit Singapore on the 9th of August for our National Day Parade. 

Thank you very much.

Foreign affairs