18 April, 2008

Still friends, no matter what ?

PM 'positive' on M'sian rail link, Pedra Branca ruling won't affect ties: George Yeo

- Nazry Bahrawi, TODAYonline.
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AS Malaysia's political landscape continues to feel the ripples from last month's elections, its newly-appointed Foreign Minister has assured Singaporeans — those wondering about the polls' possible impact on cross-strait ties — that the relationship will do better than to remain in its "status quo".
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"Status quo means just as it was. It should be one grade up and we will do this as a fervour, as a push," said Dr Rais Yatim, the first Malaysian Cabinet Minister to visit the Republic since the March 8 polls.
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At a joint doorstop interview yesterday, Dr Rais and his Singapore counterpart George Yeo — both referred to each other as "my good friend" or "dear friend" — seemed keen to emphasise that the "forging ahead" of bilateral ties would not be derailed.
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For instance, with the International Court of Justice due to make its judgment on Pedra Branca known next month, Mr Yeo said: "Both of us have agreed that if Malaysia were to win, then we will congratulate Malaysia."
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If Singapore were to win, Dr Rias would offer his congratulations and "whatever the decision, we will accept it and it will not affect bilateral relations", Mr Yeo said. For years, the lighthouse has been a thorn in the relationship, with both nations referring the matter to The Hague in 2003.
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Two other barometers of warm ties were raised: The positive vibes over a proposed urban rail link between Singapore and Malaysia; and Wednesday's launch of a marketing office for the Iskandar Malaysia project at UOB Plaza, welcomed by Mr Yeo.
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In the strongest signals yet from Singapore about the MRT link to the Iskandar development, Mr Yeo said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had "responded positively" to the idea at a morning meeting with Dr Rais.
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"The link should not be a difficult one and it will bring immediate advantages to both sides," said Mr Yeo, adding that the issue would be ironed out by the Singapore-Malaysia Joint Ministerial Committee.
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Asked if there was a timeline for building the rail link, Dr Rais said it was "too early" to say. Last month, Johor Chief Minister Abdul Ghani Othman had said he hoped the link would "materialise in two to three years' time".
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Singapore is Dr Rais' first stop in his round of introductory overseas visits as Foreign Minister. This is a "special honour" for which Singapore is "very touched", said
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Mr Yeo who described this as an expression of the "special relationship".
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Besides Mr Lee and Mr Yeo, Dr Rais also called on Deputy Prime Minister
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S Jayakumar, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong during his one-day visit.
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Yesterday, as Dr Rais fielded questions from the media about the political scene and possible leadership change in Malaysia — following the Barisan Nasional's loss of its two-third parliamentary majority and its worst performance at the polls since independence — Mr Yeo steered clear of commenting.
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Both ministers highlighted the economic importance of one country to the other, and hence the need for cooperation. Singapore, Dr Rais noted, was Malaysia's second biggest business partner after the United States, "that is to say, about RM142-billion-a-year ($60-billion-a-year) worth of relationship".
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He added: "Like they say most of the time, money may be root of all evil, but sometimes it eases the nerves. That is the jovial way of saying that we need each other.
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"The commonalities between the two nations should be on our top priority list and the differences, whatever they are, should be left to be scored later."

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