PM Lee & PM Najib discussed everything under the sun at the annual Leaders' Retreat

Just two lads taking care of business.

Sulaiman Daud | January 16, 2018, 05:03 PM

The Singapore-Malaysia Leaders' Retreat is a great opportunity for the leaders and governments of both countries.

Think of it like this -- imagine you're doing a project with someone, but due to other commitments you haven't seen your partner in a while.

So the two of you agree to block off a couple of days, meet up, and check off everything that you've got on your list. Every last thing you can think of gets brought up.

Here are some of the hot button issues that were discussed, according to the joint statement released by both Prime Ministers on Jan. 16.

1. Water

One of the biggest and most important bilateral issues was covered at length:

"In this regard, the Leaders welcomed the progress made by Malaysia’s Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water (KeTTHA), the Johor State Government, Singapore’s Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR), and Singapore’s Public Utilities Board (PUB) to identify appropriate and timely measures, including schemes, to increase the yield of the Johore River, and enhance the resilience of the Linggiu Reservoir."

The following announcements were made:

  • The terms of the 1962 Water Agreement were affirmed.
  • Kudos were given to the Johore River Barrage, which started operations in Aug. 2016 and contributed to the recovery of the water levels in Linggiu Reservoir.
  • Malaysia will fund and undertake a hydrometric modelling study of the Johore River to increase its yield, with Singapore's participation.

Good to know that our leaders are keeping an eye on the water shortage problem, which was an acute challenge not too long ago.

2. Rapid Transit System

The bilateral agreement for the Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link was finally signed:

"The Leaders warmly welcomed the signing of the Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link Bilateral Agreement. This is the second cross-border rail agreement that the two countries have signed in two years, which is testament to the excellent cooperation between Malaysia and Singapore."

Here are the highlights:

  • There will be co-located customs, immigration and quarantine (CIQ) arrangements at each RTS Link Station, hence passengers will only need to undergo CIQ clearance at their point of departure.
  • RTS Link passenger services will commence by 31 December 2024.
  • SMRT and Prasarana will form a Joint Venture company to be the RTS Link operator for the first concession period.

This should make it easier for you to visit the upcoming attractions being built in Johor.


3. High Speed Rail

The other major link between Singapore and Malaysia to be built also got a mention:

"The Leaders welcomed the calling of the Assets Company (AssetsCo) tender for the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore HSR on 20 December 2017. The first joint tender between MyHSR Corporation and SG HSR marked a major milestone in our collaboration..."

  • The direct Kuala Lumpur-Singapore HSR Express Service is expected to commence by 31 December 2026.
  • There was "keen international interest" in in the HSR AssetsCo tender, and both countries looked forward to receiving high quality bids.
  • Both Malaysia and Singapore have been hard at work. Malaysia has launched its HSR Station designs and started its Public Inspection Exercise, while Singapore has set up its infrastructure company SG HSR Pte Ltd and introduced the Cross-Border Railways Bill in Parliament.

We previously covered the proxy tech war between the tender's most likely bidders, China and Japan.

4. Iskandar Malaysia

The close links that Singapore investors have forged in the development region of Iskandar Malaysia, Johor got a mention too:

"The Leaders welcomed the progress in bilateral cooperation in Iskandar Malaysia through the bilateral Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia (JMCIM)...

The Leaders reiterated their commitment to promote and explore further links to improve connectivity between Malaysia and Singapore. Both countries are exploring establishing additional ferry services between Malaysia and Singapore."

The growing popularity of Singapore investors in Johor was noted in an ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute survey in Nov. 2017.

5. Pedra Branca

Even the thorniest of issues was not avoided. The leaders said that the Pedra Branca issue will be resolved according to international law:

"The Leaders noted Malaysia’s applications for revision and for interpretation of the International Court of Justice’s Judgment of 23 May 2008 on sovereignty over Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks, and South Ledge filed on 2 February 2017 and 30 June 2017 respectively. The Leaders affirmed their commitment to resolving these matters in accordance with international law."

It's rather likely that the issue will be touched upon again in the run up to Malaysia's general election, despite the friendly words here today on Jan. 16.

There were other issues that got shout-outs of their own, such as reducing congestion at both ends of the Causeway and cooperation in education, tourism, and civil defence.

The statement ended with the affirmation of long-standing issues such as defence partnerships, and their commitments to ASEAN. The next Retreat, the 9th, will be held later this year in Malaysia.

By that time, there will surely be more to talk about.

Top image from PM Najib Razak's Twitter page.