Malaysia–Singapore relations

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Malaysia–Singapore relations
Map indicating locations of Malaysia and Singapore


Diplomatic Mission
Malaysian High Commission, Singapore Singaporean High Commission, Kuala Lumpur
High Commissioner Vacant
Chargé d'affaires a.i. Jamal Sharifuddin Johan
High Commissioner Vanu Gopala Menon

Malaysia–Singapore relations (Chinese: 马来西亚–新加坡关系; Malay: Hubungan Malaysia–Singapura) refers to the bilateral foreign relations between the two countries Malaysia and Singapore, after the separation of Singapore from the Federation of Malaysia in 1965. Singapore has a high commission in Kuala Lumpur and a consulate general in Johor Bahru,[1][2] while Malaysia has a high commission in Singapore.[3] Both countries are full members of the Commonwealth of Nations and ASEAN. Ties between the two countries remain intact despite several diplomatic issues that have arisen.[4][5][6]

Country comparison[edit]

 Federation of Malaysia  Republic of Singapore
Coat of Arms Coat of arms of Malaysia.svg Coat of arms of Singapore.svg
Flag Malaysia Singapore
Population 31,360,000 5,607,300
Area 330,803 km2 (127,724 sq mi) 719.1 km2 (277.6 sq mi)
Population Density 92/km2 (240/sq mi) 20,194.1/km2 (52,302/sq mi)
Time zones 1 1
Capital Kuala Lumpur
Putrajaya (administrative)
Singapore (City-state)
Largest City Kuala Lumpur – 1,768,000 Bedok – 289,750
Government Federal parliamentary elective constitutional monarchy Unitary dominant-party parliamentary constitutional republic
Established 31 August 1957 (Independence from the British Empire proclaimed for the Federation of Malaya)
16 September 1963 (Proclamation of Malaysia)
6 February 1819 (Established by the British)
2 April 1955 (Self-government granted from the British Empire)
7 August 1965 (Independence proclaimed for Singapore after separation from Malaysia)
Predecessor States Portuguese Colonial Period (1511–1641)
Portuguese Malacca (1511–1641)
Dutch Colonial Period (1641–1825)
Dutch Malacca (1641–1795; 1818–1825)
British Colonial Period (1771–1946)
Straits Settlements (1826–1946)
 Federated Malay States (1895–1946)
Unfederated Malay States (1909–1946)
 Kingdom of Sarawak (1841–1946)
Crown Colony of Labuan (1848–1946)
 British North Borneo (1881–1946)
Japanese Occupation Period (1942–1945)
Occupied Malaya (1942–1945)
Occupied British Borneo (1942–1945)
Si Rat Malai (1943–1945)
Interim Military Period (1945–1946)
Military Administration of Malaya (1945–1946)
Military Administration of Borneo (1945–1946)
Self–Government Period (1946–1963)
 Malayan Union (1946–1948)
 Federation of Malaya (1948–1963)
Crown Colony of North Borneo (1946–1963)
Crown Colony of Sarawak (1946–1963)
Federation Period (1963–present)
 Federation of Malaysia (1963–present)
British Colonial Period (1819–1946)
Modern Singapore (1819–1826)
Settlement of Singapore (1826–1942; 1945–1946)
Japanese Occupation Period (1942–1945)
Occupied Singapore (1942–1945)
Interim Military Period (1945–1946)
Military Administration of Singapore (1945–1946)
Self–Government Period (1946–1965)
Crown Colony of Singapore (1946–1963)
State of Singapore (1963–1965)
Independent Period (1965–present)
 Republic of Singapore (1965–present)
First Leader Tuanku Abdul Rahman (Monarch)
Tunku Abdul Rahman (Prime Minister)
Yusof Ishak (President)
Lee Kuan Yew (Prime Minister)
Head of State Monarch: Muhammad V President: Halimah Yacob
Head of Government Prime Minister: Mahathir Mohamad Prime Minister: Lee Hsien Loong
Deputy Leader Deputy Prime Minister: Wan Azizah Wan Ismail Deputy Prime Minister: Teo Chee Hean
Tharman Shanmugaratnam
Legislature Parliament (Bicameral) Parliament (Unicameral)
Upper House Senate
President: S. Vigneswaran
Lower House House of Representatives
Speaker: Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof
Judiciary Federal Court
Chief Justice: Richard Malanjum
Supreme Court
Chief Justice: Sundaresh Menon
National language Malay (official), English, Chinese, Tamil Malay, Chinese, Tamil, and English
National anthem Negaraku (My country) Majulah Singapura (Onward Singapore)

Diplomatic relations[edit]

Both countries are full members of the Commonwealth of Nations and ASEAN.

Bilateral relations[edit]

Singapore and Malaysia enjoy close bilateral relations, and there is an annual Singapore-Malaysia Leaders' Retreat for bilateral talks between the two countries. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has suggested in the 2018 Leader's Retreat that Singapore and Kuala Lumpur could potentially be linked up as smart cities, pointing to the themes of resilience and innovation that Singapore has chosen as chair of ASEAN in 2018. Najib has also expressed Malaysia's full support for Singapore's chairmanship of the grouping, and said that the emphasis on the digital economy is something both countries can work on together.

Memoranda of understanding[edit]

Numerous memoranda of understanding are signed between leaders of the two nations. A memorandum of understanding for educational cooperation between both countries was renewed on 16 January 2018. In a joint statement, the prime ministers said the agreement, which builds on efforts over the past 10 years, will provide opportunities for officials, educators and students from both countries to carry out exchanges and collaborations on matters of mutual interest.[7]

Socio-economic relations[edit]

As at 2015, Singapore is Malaysia's biggest trading partner, with imports and exports totalling approximately US$28 billion.[8] Conversely, Singapore's biggest trading partner is China, followed by Hong Kong and Malaysia respectively.[9] Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has suggested that both nations can promote regulations and e-commerce, and encourage electronic payments.[7]

Specifically, Malaysia's southernmost state of Johor has enjoyed close bilateral relations with Singapore.[10][11] Both territories neighbour each other and share natural resources such as water.[12] In addition, Johor and Singapore, together with Indonesia's Riau Islands, form the SIJORI Growth Triangle. Singapore is consistently one of the top sources of foreign direct investments into Iskandar Malaysia, an economic corridor spanning much of southern Johor.[13] Meanwhile, almost 300,000 Malaysians from Johor transit across the two border crossings between Johor and Singapore - the Causeway and the Second Link - on a daily basis, either for work or education opportunities.[14][15]


Singaporeans account for a majority of tourist arrivals into Malaysia, at nearly 13 million as of 2016.[16] Malaysia was also Singapore's third largest market in terms of inbound visitors, contributing 8.5% of the total tourists in the city-state in 2012; tourists from Kuala Lumpur, Sarawak, Penang, Sabah and Perak formed the bulk of Malaysian tourist arrivals into Singapore in that year.[17]

According to a study conducted by the Singapore Tourism Board, Malaysians tend to view Singapore as an extension of their lifestyle rather than a holiday destination, due to the close geographical proximity, cultural similarities and family ties between the two countries.[17] Aside from leisure, 41% of Malaysian tourists in Singapore cited meetings, incentives, conferencing and exhibitions (MICE) as their purpose of visit.

Cultural relations[edit]

Malaysia and Singapore share significant historical and cultural affinities, as both countries have multiracial populations consisting of Malays, Chinese and Indians, and had experienced British colonial rule.[18][19] These are in addition to cross-border family ties due to migration between the two countries.[17][20] In recent years, more arts and cultural activities have been jointly organised by artists from both sides of the Causeway, including the Titian Budaya showcase in Kuala Lumpur in 2015 and the Causeway Exchange during the George Town Festival that year.[21][22]

In particular, Singapore is culturally linked with its former fellow Straits Settlements, Penang and Malacca - both of which are now among the 13 Malaysian states. Aside from being governed directly by the British as crown colonies until the mid-20th century, the three territories are renowned for their cosmopolitan populaces, which include the Peranakans.[23] There has been a recent resurgence of Peranakan culture, fuelled by conservation efforts at historic sites and the mass media.[23][24] One of the key regional events aimed at promoting Peranakan culture is the International Baba Nyonya Convention, which was last held in Penang's capital city of George Town in 2017.[25]

Security relations[edit]

Singapore and Malaysia are part of the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FDPA), along with New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom, in which the five nations are to consult one another in the event of an armed attack on either Malaysia or Singapore. An Integrated Air Defence System (IADS) for both Malaysia and Singapore was set up at RMAF Butterworth in the Malaysian state of Penang in 1971.[26]

Both countries, along with Indonesia, help each other respond to threats by Jemaah Islamiah (JI).

Transport links[edit]

The two countries are connected by the Johor–Singapore Causeway and the Tuas Second Link. The Second Link is a bridge connecting Singapore and Johor, Malaysia. In Singapore, it is officially known as the Tuas Second Link. The bridge was built to reduce traffic congestion at the Johor–Singapore Causeway which have been operated since 2 January 1998. The twin-deck bridge supports a dual-three lane carriageway linking Kampong Ladang at Tanjung Kupang in Johor to Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim at Tuas in Singapore. The span over water is 1,920 metres (6,300 ft). On the Malaysian side, the bridge is connected to the Second Link Expressway (Malay: Lebuhraya Laluan Kedua Malaysia-Singapura), also known as Linkedua Expressway, which links from Senai North Interchange Exit 253 at North-South Expressway, Senai Airport and Taman Perling, Johor Bahru via its extension known as Johor Bahru Parkway. In Singapore, the bridge connects to the Ayer Rajah Expressway.

The Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link, a high-speed rail line between Malaysia and Singapore, under development, is scheduled to open in 2024.[27][28][29] This long-delayed project required the resolution of a dispute between the two countries over transportation links and Singaporean investment in Iskandar Malaysia in 2010. Malaysian and Singaporean counterparts thereby agreed to modify the Points of Agreement signed in 1990. Specifically, the two sides agreed to move the KTM railway station from Tanjung Pagar to Woodlands and created a joint venture to be called M-S Pte Ltd to develop six parcels of Singapore land, develop a rapid transit link between Tanjung Puteri in Johor Baru and Woodlands in Singapore, and allow Temasek Holdings and Khazanah to set up a joint venture for the purpose of developing a town in Iskandar Malaysia.[30] The deadline to form the aforementioned joint venture company lapsed on 30 June 2018, thus both nations have to decide to mutually extend the deadline or open an international tender for the rail operator.[31]

Singapore and Malaysia also agreed to build the Kuala Lumpur–Singapore High Speed Rail in 2013. The project is expected to be completed by 2026, and would connect Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru to Singapore.[32] Under the administration of the new Malaysian government, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad however announced that Malaysia have postponed the HSR project while Singapore spent S$250 million (US$184 million) on the project and another S$40 million is expected to be spent from August 2018 till the end of 2018.[33][34] On 18 July 2018, former Malaysian Prime Minister and opposition member of parliament (MP) Najib Razak questioned the government on the economic impact of cancelling the project.[35]

Other bilateral projects[edit]

There have been schemes to raise the water levels in Johor's Linggiu Reservoir to meet the needs of both countries. There is an ongoing joint hydrometric modelling study of the Johor River.[36] This has been prompted by the parching of the Reservoir, with its water level dropping to a historic low of 20 per cent after a long spell of rainless days in October 2016. The study aims to help find out why water levels in the Reservoir fell recently, and can also analyse what happens when it rains in Johor, and how this translates into inflows to Linggiu and outflows to the Johor River. The dip in supply was previously pegged to persistent dry weather, as well as large discharges of water to prevent salinity levels downstream from getting too high.[37]

Disputes and diplomatic incidents[edit]

Since the expulsion of Singapore from the Federation in 1965, several other differences developed between Singapore and Malaysia, including a dispute over water prices (under the 1961 and 1962 water agreements) and ownership of Pedra Branca, an island off the coast of Johor.

Water conflicts between Malaysia and Singapore[edit]

Under the 1962 Water Agreement, Singapore can draw up to 250 million gallons of water per day from the Johor River. This right expires in 2061. There has been numerous disputes between the two nations over the fairness of the deal, with Malaysia arguing Singapore is an affluent nation profiting from Malaysia's water resources due to the deal, and Singapore arguing that its treatment of water and subsequent resale of said treated water to Malaysia is done at a 'generous' price.[38] Malaysia has threatened to cut off the water supply prematurely to pressure Singapore politically.

Territorial dispute[edit]

In May 2008, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in favour of Singapore in its 29-year dispute with Malaysia over a tiny uninhabited island, known as Pedra Branca, The UN court in The Hague ruled by 12 votes to four that sovereignty belonged to the Republic of Singapore. The football field-sized island is valued for its strategic position, due to its location by the Malacca Strait, which carries 40% of the world's trade.[39]

In February 2017, Malaysia filed an application for the revision of the ICJ's judgement. In its filing, Malaysia cited three documents recently declassified by the United Kingdom to support the application. Singapore has set up its legal team to respond to Malaysia's application. The team includes Attorney-General Lucien Wong, Professor S. Jayakumar, Professor Tommy Koh, and former Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong.[40] Responding to the application, Singapore's Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, said: "I am confident of the eventual outcome, because (we have) strong lawyers (and) a strong case".[40]

On 30 June 2017, Malaysia filed a second application, requesting interpretation over the judgement delivered by the ICJ in 2008 over the sovereignty of Pedra Branca. According to Malaysia, this was "separate and autonomous" from the earlier application filed in February 2017, seeking revision of the ICJ judgement.[41] In response, Singapore said that "Malaysia's request for the ICJ to interpret the judgement is puzzling. Singapore will therefore oppose Malaysia's application for interpretation, which we consider to be both unnecessary and without merit. Singapore is committed to resolving these issues in accordance with international law".[41]

To implement the ICJ's judgement in 2008, Malaysia and Singapore have attempted to implement the 2008 judgement through co-operative processes. Both countries established the Malaysia-Singapore Joint Technical Committee (MSJTC) to implement the ICJ's judgement, which was inter alia, tasked with addressing the delimitation of the maritime boundaries between the territorial waters of both countries. According to Malaysia, the MSJTC reached an impasse in November 2013. Malaysia asserted that one of the reasons was both parties being unable to agree over the meaning of the 2008 judgement as it concerns South Ledge and the waters surrounding Pedra Branca.[42]

Malaysia's latest legal bid, according to international experts, could be an attempt by the Barisan Nasional government to stir up nationalist fervour against a convenient, smaller neighbour, Singapore, ahead of a key general election.[43] In the aftermath of the general election under the new government of Pakatan Harapan, Malaysia has dropped its appeal on the Pedra Branca case while announcing plans to convert the Middle Rocks that are under it’s sovereignty into an island.[44][45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "High Commission of the Republic of Singapore, Kuala Lumpur". Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore. Retrieved 18 April 2017. 
  2. ^ "Consulate-General of the Republic of Singapore, Johor Bahru". Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore. Retrieved 18 April 2017. 
  3. ^ "Official Website of High Commission of Malaysia, Singapore". Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Malaysia. Retrieved 18 April 2017. 
  4. ^ Lau Teik Soon (1969). "Malaysia-Singapore Relations: Crisis of Adjustment, 1965-68". Journal of Southeast Asian History, Cambridge University Press on behalf of Department of History, National University of Singapore: 22. JSTOR 20067736. 
  5. ^ Shaun Narine (2002). Explaining ASEAN: Regionalism in Southeast Asia. Lynne Rienner Publishers. pp. 73–. ISBN 978-1-58826-129-8. 
  6. ^ Mely Caballero Anthony (2005). Regional Security in Southeast Asia: Beyond the ASEAN Way. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. pp. 59–. ISBN 978-981-230-260-1. 
  7. ^ a b Seow Bei Yi (17 January 2018). "Causeway jams, high-speed rail bidding process among issues discussed". The Straits Times. Retrieved 22 June 2018. 
  8. ^ "Malaysia | Trade At a glance | Most Recent Value | WITS | Data". Retrieved 16 April 2017. 
  9. ^ "Singapore | Trade At a glance | Most Recent Value | WITS | Data". Retrieved 16 April 2017. 
  10. ^ Yusof, Amir (19 July 2018). "Exclusive: Johor crown prince claims 'sovereignty' over water in the state, prefers 'no federal interference' on the issue". Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 29 July 2018. 
  11. ^ Daud, Sulaiman (27 August 2017). "Views of Johor Sultan matter in the construction of Rapid Transit System". Mothership. Retrieved 29 July 2018. 
  12. ^ Royston Sim (25 June 2018). "Singapore, Malaysia must comply fully with 1962 water agreement provisions, says MFA in response to Mahathir comments". The Straits Times. Retrieved 29 July 2018. 
  13. ^ Saieed, Zunaira (1 April 2017). "Iskandar Malaysia continues to attract capital 11 years on". The Star. Retrieved 29 July 2018. 
  14. ^ "Toiling across Causeway, Iskandar Puteri's urban Malays hungry for change". Today. 7 May 2018. Retrieved 29 July 2018. 
  15. ^ Khor, Yu Leng (6 November 2017). "Commentary: Johor-Singapore tolls and the impact on commuters on both sides of the Causeway". Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 29 July 2018. 
  16. ^ Sean Lim (7 June 2017). "Malaysia's new tourism tax unlikely to deter visitors from Singapore". The Straits Times. Retrieved 29 July 2018. 
  17. ^ a b c "STB Market Insights: Malaysia" (PDF). Singapore Tourism Board. April 2014. 
  18. ^ "Singapore and Malaysia: A Comparison" (PDF). 
  19. ^ Jamie Koh, Stephanie Ho (2009). Culture and Customs of Singapore and Malaysia. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9780313351167. 
  20. ^ Lee, Hsien Loong (9 August 2015). "Flourishing ties rooted in shared history". The Straits Times. Retrieved 29 July 2018. 
  21. ^ Lim, Yan Liang (20 November 2015). "'Cultural bridge' showcase event of arts from S'pore and Malaysia launched by PM Lee in KL". The Straits Times. Retrieved 29 July 2018. 
  22. ^ "A look at the Indian Muslim community in inner city". The Star. 27 July 2015. Retrieved 29 July 2015. 
  23. ^ a b Heaver, Stuart (10 May 2014). "High society". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 29 July 2018. 
  24. ^ Shetty, Deepika (24 April 2008). "Singapore pays tribute to Peranakan culture with new museum". The Star. Retrieved 29 July 2018. 
  25. ^ Cavina Lim (29 November 2017). "Baba Nyonya convention aims to uphold precious heritage". The Star. Retrieved 29 July 2018. 
  26. ^ "The Five Power Defence Arrangement comes into force - Singapore History". Retrieved 2018-07-29. 
  27. ^ "M'sia, S'pore joint implementation team meets". Bernama. The Star. 29 August 2010. Retrieved 6 September 2017. 
  28. ^ Lianne Chia (31 July 2017). "Singapore-JB Rapid Transit System to begin passenger service by 2024". Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 6 September 2017. 
  29. ^ Royston Sim; Adrian Lim (1 August 2017). "Johor Baru-Singapore Rapid Transit System Link's first step: Terms for joint venture firm". The Straits Times. Retrieved 6 September 2017. 
  30. ^ "Malaysia and Singapore end deadlock on key issues". The Star. 25 May 2010. Retrieved 6 September 2017. 
  31. ^ Kevin Kwang (9 July 2018). "Deadline to form joint venture company to operate JB-Singapore Rapid Transit System Link missed: Khaw". Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 12 July 2018. 
  32. ^ "Kuala Lumpur – Singapore high speed rail tender to be called this year". Railway Gazette. 5 July 2017. Retrieved 6 September 2017. 
  33. ^ Kevin Kwang (9 July 2018). "Singapore has spent more than S$250m on High-Speed Rail; no reply from Malaysia yet: Khaw". Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 12 July 2018. 
  34. ^ Sumisha Naidu (10 July 2018). "Singapore 'knows what we want to do' about High-Speed Rail: Mahathir". Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 12 July 2018. 
  35. ^ Sumisha Naidu; Melissa Goh (18 July 2018). "Former Malaysian PM Najib questions economic impact of cancelling high-speed rail project". Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 18 July 2018. 
  36. ^ Royston Sim (17 January 2018). "Singapore, KL ink milestone pact to build rapid transit link". The Straits Times. Retrieved 22 June 2018. 
  37. ^ "Finding ways to increase water supply from Johor River". The Straits Times. 17 January 2018. Retrieved 22 June 2018. 
  38. ^ Kelly Ng (25 June 2018). "Mahathir revives water dispute with Singapore, calls 1962 deal 'ridiculous'". Today Online. Retrieved 28 July 2018. 
  39. ^ "Court awards islet to Singapore". BBC News. 23 May 2008. Retrieved 6 September 2017. 
  40. ^ a b "Singapore confident of retaining Pedra Branca". Bernama. New Straits Times. 1 April 2017. Retrieved 6 September 2017. 
  41. ^ a b "Malaysia files new application to ICJ on Pedra Branca ruling; Singapore says it's 'without merit'". Channel NewsAsia. 1 July 2017. Retrieved 6 September 2017. 
  42. ^ Hidir Reduan (4 July 2017). "M'sia files fresh legal bid over Pulau Batu Puteh / Pedra Branca ownership". New Straits Times. Retrieved 6 September 2017. 
  43. ^ Bhavan Jaipragas (11 February 2017). "Why Malaysia is fighting Singapore over a rock". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 6 September 2017. 
  44. ^ "Malaysia drops Pulau Batu Puteh dispute with Singapore, withdraws ICJ challenge". Agence France-Presse. New Straits Times. 1 June 2018. Retrieved 22 June 2018. 
  45. ^ Bhavan Jaipragas (30 May 2018). "Mahathir plans Malaysian island on Middle Rocks near Singapore". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 22 June 2018.