S'pore & M'sia relations can reach greater heights, says PM Lee, inviting Anwar to leaders' retreat

As close friends and neighbours, the destinies of Singapore and Malaysia are intertwined, PM Lee said.

Sulaiman Daud | Tan Min-Wei | January 30, 2023, 10:16 PM

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In a toast, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong welcomed Anwar Ibrahim to Singapore, and invited the Malaysian Prime Minister to the Singapore-Malaysia Leaders' Retreat, scheduled to be held in Singapore later in 2023.

First official visit as PM

Anwar was in town on his first official visit to Singapore since being appointed prime minister in late 2022, accompanied by his wife, former Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and a ministerial delegation.

He called on President Halimah Yacob, was hosted to an official lunch, and had the honour of an orchid being named after him and Wan Azizah.

In his toast, PM Lee mentioned that he first met Anwar when both were ministers, with the two men having a long career in politics. PM Lee became Acting Minister for Trade and Industry in 1986, and a full Cabinet minister in 1987. Anwar had a number of portfolios and was serving as Education Minister in 1986.

Anwar's last visit to Singapore was in 2018 to attend the Singapore Summit. At the time, his Pakatan Harapan coalition had won the general election and he had been freed from prison after a royal pardon, but had not yet won a seat in Parliament.

After five years and many, many developments later, Anwar made good on his vow to make Singapore one of the first countries he would visit as PM.

PM Lee said:

"I am happy that our two sides continue to work closely to advance bilateral relations for mutual benefit. Prime Minister Anwar and I had a fruitful discussion earlier, including on how we can make progress on outstanding bilateral issues."

Physical, trade links

PM Lee listed the ties that bound the two nations. Physical, with the Causeway, now fully reopened after the Covid-19 pandemic. The Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link between Johor Bahru and Singapore, scheduled for a 2026 opening, also received a mention.

He also listed the intangible links between both countries, such as Singapore and Malaysia being each other's second-biggest trading partners, and Singapore being the largest foreign investor in Malaysia, with over S$56 billion in direct investments. PM Lee said this was a sign of confidence in the Malaysian economy.

Earlier in the day, the leaders witnessed the signing of a number of agreements, including partnerships in the digital sphere and the green economy.

PM Lee concluded,

"As close friends and neighbours, the destinies of Singapore and Malaysia are intertwined. When we work constructively together, we produce win-win outcomes with tangible benefits for our peoples and businesses. I am confident that with Prime Minister Anwar’s support, Singapore-Malaysia relations can reach greater heights."

Singapore - Malaysia Leaders' Retreat

The retreat is an opportunity for both leaders to discuss various bilateral issues, hosted annually before the interruption of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The last retreat took place in 2019, in Putrajaya. Back then, Mahathir Mohamad was prime minister.

Singapore invited the next prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, to the retreat in 2021 following the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan government under Mahathir.

However Muhyiddin lost power, and Singapore invited his successor, Ismail Sabri Yaakob to an in-person retreat.

However, Ismail Sabri Yaakob was ousted from his seat in the general election later that year, and eventually was replaced by Anwar.

No issue left unresolved: Anwar

Anwar said that his Cabinet wished to do more for the "benefit of our people", according to CNA.

He said that he had meaningful discussions with PM Lee, and mentioned a number of issues to make progress on, including the Causeway congestion, RTS and the Flight Information Region (FIR), although he did not elaborate further.

"No issues should be left unresolved," Anwar said.

During the lunch, Anwar said he appreciated PM Lee's mention of Malaysian workers who queued for hours to enter the country for work.

He also said that President Halimah's upcoming state visit to Malaysia is a "clear signal" that bilateral relations are "vibrant", CNA reported.

Top image from MCI.