Malaysia's desire to take back airspace 'not a straightforward decision': Khaw Boon Wan

SINGAPORE: Malaysia’s desire to reclaim the airspace in southern Johor is not a “straightforward decision”, said Singapore’s Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan on Tuesday (Dec 4).

Malaysia’s Transport Minister Anthony Loke had brought up the topic in parliament earlier Tuesday, saying Malaysia would discuss its plans in greater detail with Singapore and, if necessary, refer to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) for further advice. 

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Speaking to reporters, Mr Khaw said that the Malaysian authorities had earlier informed the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore of its intention to take back the airspace, the management of which has been delegated to Singapore since 1974, “citing sovereignty issues and so on”. 

READ: Malaysia wants to “reclaim delegated airspace” in southern Johor

“But as you know, airspace management has nothing to do with sovereignty,” said Mr Khaw. “In fact, many countries have their airspace – or at least part of their airspace – managed by other countries.”

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Mr Khaw said airspace management is “very much about the safety and efficiency”, and that the current arrangement was decided on “many years ago”, in 1973, by states in the region including Malaysia and Singapore.

“We note Malaysia’s desire to take back the airspace, but as you know, this is a very congested airspace, probably one of the most complex airspaces in the world …

“It is not a straightforward decision to just change the status quo.” 

Mr Khaw said that ICAO procedures and processes indicate that any change must improve the status quo.

READ: Southern Johor airspace arrangements “have worked well”, changes will affect many – MOT

“If it doesn’t, what is the point of changing? The criteria for improvement are safety and efficiency. Does it make it safer? Does it make it more efficient? Otherwise, why change?” said Mr Khaw.

Now that Malaysia has proposed a change, there must be “proper consultation” with the many stakeholders involved, he added.

PROTEST OVER CHANGE IN JB PORT LIMITS

Mr Khaw also touched on the Malaysian government’s move to extend the Johor Bahru port limits, over which Singapore has lodged a “strong protest”. 

“I alerted Minister Anthony Loke that Malaysia has unilaterally expanded the Johor Bahru port limits, encroaching into Singapore territorial space. Obviously, there’s a violation of our sovereignty and also international law.

“We duly issued a third-party note to protest against the action and requesting them to immediately amend their gazette … to take into account our sovereignty concerns,” said Mr Khaw. 

“Mr Loke told me this was a move on the part of their foreign affairs and that their ministry of foreign affairs will reply to us. But while waiting for the response, which didn’t come … they went on to publish a port circular, and a few weeks later, a mariners’ note – instructions to the shipping community about new boundaries. 

“So we issued a second third-party note and in fact, in the last two weeks, there have been repeated intrusions by Malaysian vessels … into our sovereign space. So we, of course, continue to issue third-party notes to Malaysia and hope that they stop these escalation actions,” he added. 

“NOT CONDUCIVE” FOR BILATERAL RELATIONS

Mr Khaw noted that the current situation is not favourable for both countries. 

“If we carry on like this, certainly it’s not conducive for a good bilateral relationship,” he said. “There’s much we can gain, win-win, working together. Many problems cross-border – you can’t do it by yourself.” 

He raised the example of the traffic jam on the Causeway linking Singapore and Malaysia. 

“I can’t solve it single-handed. You can’t solve it single-handed. If we sit down together, we may be able to improve the situation,” he said.

READ: Singapore lodges “strong protest” over extension to Johor Bahru port limits

Mr Khaw said he would approach the matter the same way he did the recent discussion about the KL-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR) project. 

“So the approach I take, as I said as in the HSR project, let’s sit down and let’s understand each other,” said the minister. “What is bothering you? What is the concern? And we try to find some common solution … which can be win-win. 

“I always believe that with some creativity and goodwill, and of course mutual respect, we can always arrive at such an outcome,” he said. 


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