Friend… or foe? Bilateral relations between Malaysia and Singapore have been thrown into the spotlight this past week, ever since newly elected Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad called to scrap the High-Speed Rail (HSR) project, which has been in the works since 2013. According to transport minister Khaw Boon Wan, even as Singapore continues to wait upon confirmation for the official word of cancellation, costs are still being incurred. Clearly, a lot of work has already been put into building the railway and Singapore might even consider asking for compensation for the incurred costs. Mahathir cites the need to reduce burgeoning domestic debt as the key reason for backing out. Going through with the project would have cost Malaysia RM110 billion.
At the same time, while the HSR move appears to suggest decreased engagement between the two countries, Malaysia has also decided to drop the Pedra Branca claim on May 28. Thus passing the sovereignty of Pedra Branca, South Ledge and Middle Rocks to Singapore.
Sounds like a drama- what’s going on?
While many Singaporeans celebrated the Pakatan Harapan landslide victory along with many Malaysians, there has also been word that Singapore leaders have been squeamish about the change of hands. Not too far back in time, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had ended his last tenure as Prime Minister on sketchy terms with Singapore. Issues such as those pertaining to the bridge that he had intended to build over the causeway, to water prices, and to disputes over the Tanjong Pagar railway land used to dog the relationship between the two countries.
Speculation is that Malaysia has decided to discontinue the fight over Pedra Branca in order to placate Singapore after the pulling out of the HSR project. The HSR project had been started by ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak, who had also posted on Facebook about the decision to pull out being overly hasty. Still, Prime Minister Mahathir insists that Malaysia’s reason behind both decisions was to minimise unnecessary costs to the country. Valid or not, massive preparation has already been carried out as part of the HSR plan, and the decision to pull out definitely stirs tension between the two countries.