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Outdated mentality

  • No one can deny Mahathir's right to express himself, but he has to say the right things for the right occasion.

Sin Chew Daily

It hardly comes to anyone's mind that territorial disputes between Malaysia and Singapore has exposed the inconsistency between the federal and Johor state governments as well as that within the Pakatan Harapan coalition.

Johor menteri besar Osman Sapian visited the Johor Bahru port on January 9 on board a vessel, and said the visit was agreed by the foreign ministry. However, the foreign ministry later clarified that it never agreed to the MB visiting the port, and had instead tried to persuade him not to do so for fear the action would have negative impact on bilateral relationship.

Meanwhile, Johor PKR chairman Hassan Abdul Karim slammed PH leaders and the federal government for not defending Osman. Prime Minister Tun Mahathir defended the MB, arguing that Osman was not trespassing into Singapore's territorial waters.

With the blessing from the PM, Osman said he had the right not to notify any party for patrolling the state's territorial waters in his capacity as head of state government cum state security council chairman.

The question is, why the federal and state governments do not have a consistent strategy in dealing with territorial disputes? The foreign ministry has adopted a more peaceful approach in dealing with bilateral issues, while economic affairs minster Azmin Ali has been actively negotiating with Singapore. Unfortunately the Johor MB has opted to abandon the more moderate approach. As a result, Singapore has sought via a diplomatic note the postponement of the 14th Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia (JMCIM) meeting originally scheduled for January 14.

We need to defend the country's sovereignty with a consistent stand, without which there is no way we can achieve the desired objective.

Unfortunately, when it comes to an issue related to national sovereignty, many tend to get emotional and are unable to think soberly.

The foreign ministry's position has been right. It pays to settle any dispute that stands between us and Singapore in a peaceful manner.

It is an irrefutable fact that Singapore is forever a neighbor of Malaysia. So, why can't we just settle things peacefully at the negotiation table? Mutual understanding between neighbors is especially precious at a time the global economy is shrouded in gloom and uncertainty.

From what PM Mahathir said at the Oxford Union, we can deduce that as an old generation political leader who personally experienced colonialism, national independence and the separation of Singapore from the federation, Mahathir simply cannot put history behind him, as he said, "People in Singapore are not compatible with the people in Malaysia. They have a different viewpoint, different ideas about how a country should be ruled, so it is for that reason that they were asked to leave Malaysia, and I think it was a wise decision at that time."

Mahathir still remembers the political challenges that came with Singapore joining Malaysia, so he insisted that the supply of raw water to Singapore at 3 sen per 1,000 gallons was very unfair, while not abandoning his idea of building the crooked bridge.

Bilateral relationship with Singapore has deteriorated following Mahathir's return to premiership last year. If we want to advance our relationship with Singapore, all the unhappy memories have to be put behind us, including ethnic sentiment.

Deteriorating relationship has to a certain extent impacted the people. For example, many Singaporeans have stopped crossing the Causeway to do their grocery shopping here. If Singaporeans do not buy up Johor properties, how are we going to digest the massive supply of highrise condominiums in JB?

The prime minister said sometimes he would say something unpleasant, citing the "neo-colonialism" he mentioned in front of Chinese premier Li Keqiang during his visit to Beijing last year.

No one can deny Mahathir's right to express himself, but he has to say the right things for the right occasion. Moreover, as the prime minister of Malaysia, he should say something that goes well with his position and in the interest of the country.

As the prime minister, he has the obligation to encourage the influx of foreign investments, and get China to buy more Malaysian products because fixing the sluggish economy is the PH government's priority.

That does not mean our leaders are not allowed to speak the truth, but do so in accordance with diplomatic protocol, not to the embarrassment of the hosts.

PH ministers have been busy mending the Sino-Malaysian relationship following Mahathir's "neo-colonialism" remarks, but the damage has already been done.

If the new government is really serious about fixing the economy and expanding its political clout, it then needs to have a new mindset. As a small country, Malaysia needs to make more friends than foes.

But worryingly, PPBM still very much inherits "Mahathirism" that has contributed to the inconsistency and stagnation in the government's diplomatic policy.

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