Malaysia-Singapore Leaders’ Retreat: 13 Crucial Highlights Unveiled
Last Sunday to Monday, Prime Minister of Malaysia Anwar Ibrahim visited Singapore for a two-day Leaders’ Retreat, at the invitation of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
This was the first Leaders’ Retreat since April 2019, when bilateral discussions were temporarily suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is also PM Lee’s first retreat with PM Anwar.
During their lengthy discussion, the Prime Ministers came to agreements on several important matters, including issues of shared concern.
Here are the 13 main highlights of the conference—buckle in, there’s a lot.
PM Lee is a Workaholic
Let’s start with something light first: PM Anwar said that PM Lee is (known to be) a workaholic. The moment they met, PM Lee usually immediately started important discussions…before asking PM Anwar about his family.
That led to laughter from PM Lee and the crowd.
Johor-Singapore Special Economic Zone (JS-SEZ)
An agreement to work towards an MOU on the Johor-Singapore Special Economic Zone (JS-SEZ) will be signed by the leaders in January 2024.
This zone – praised by PM Lee as a “substantial and promising project”—seeks to improve the flow of goods, investments, and people between the two countries—in other words, our transnational flow would be receiving its long-awaited makeover.
Aside from improved efficiency and experience of cross-border travel, Singapore also aims to revamp Woodlands Checkpoint to further eradicate travel congestion and increase capacity.
Additionally, the progress made by the respective Industrial Cooperation, Immigration, Transportation Links, Innovation, Tourism, and Environment Work Groups was welcomed.
You can also watch this video to know what Malaysia has done to improvement the checkpoint:
JB-Singapore Rapid-Transit System (RTS) Link
The Johor-Bahru Singapore RTS Link is one step closer to completion.
Though still undergoing current construction, the rapid-transit system link that will connect Bukit Changar in Johor Bahru and Woodlands North in Singapore can be expected before the end of 2026. This link will be able to carry a small army of people over the Johor Strait—10,000 to be exact—per hour in each direction.
A ceremony will also be held early next year to celebrate the ground-breaking—no, tide-turning—completion of the drop-in span, which will connect both sides of the marine viaduct.
Funding support for SMEs
The leaders signed an agreement to update the Malaysia-Singapore Business Development Fund, which assures more financial support as well as opportunities for Singapore and Malaysia enterprises.
They also acknowledged a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to collaborate in developing small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs), which was signed between Enterprise Singapore and SME Corporation Malaysia.
This initiative would greatly strengthen bilateral economical links on both sides.
Strengthen Collaboration on Innovation
The leaders also praised the efforts made by the Innovation Work Group—which is responsible for accelerating the development of start-ups in both nations, as well as cultivating talent and new technology.
If you are a self-proclaimed robot romantic or tech whizz, you will be interested in the Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology—which will be taking place from 31 October to 2 November at Sands Expo & Convention.
There, the Malaysian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) will be show-casing their best start-ups this year.
Air Traffic Management
Both leaders also agreed to review the delegation arrangements for air traffic services over Southern Peninsular Malaysia. This will maintain safe and efficient air traffic management in both countries.
The concepts in guiding both civil aviation authorities forward will be considered by the countries’ respective Transport Ministers, as tasked by the PMs.
This provision was previously recommended and assented by the International Civil Aviation Organisation in 1973, then implemented in 1974 through the Operational Letter of Agreement between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore Area Control Centres concerning Singapore Arrivals, Departures and Overflights.
Maritime Boundary Delimitation
The Prime Ministers looked forward to attending the first joint meeting of the Malaysia-Singapore Joint Technical Committee, which will be commencing soon as a follow-up of the 2019 conference between the Foreign Ministers of Singapore and Malaysia.
This meeting would further focus on resolving outstanding bilateral maritime boundary delimitation issues—despite the well-executed precise delimitation of territorial waters boundaries, carried out by both governments in June 2023.
During the meeting, the leaders will also implement the International Court of Justice’s judgment on Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge.
Water Supply and Prices
Both Leaders agreed that the countries would resume discussions about safeguarding water quality and increasing the yield of the Johore River—which is where Singapore is entitled to draw water from, as said by the 1962 Johore River Agreement (62WA).
This will ensure a sustainable supply of water—so that you won’t have to worry about running out of water mid bubble bath.
Additionally, discussions concerning the prices of raw and treated water will be recommended.
Luckily for us, Singapore is working towards a low-carbon future. If we were to endure any more global warming, we’d melt into the world’s first tropical island soup!
During the Retreat, both leaders affirmed their commitment to co-developing renewable energy with less pollutants. PM Lee mentioned that renewable energy could “potentially come from Peninsula Malaysia as well as from East Malaysia”.
Enhancing energy security was also touched upon.
Regional Security and Combating Binational Crime
Given the increasing security challenges and instability worldwide, both leaders stressed upon the importance of maintaining close defence cooperation. This means both countries would continue to share knowledge consistently at various meetings and exchanges, for the safety of the countries as well as ASEAN.
The prime ministers also highlighted the need for cooperation in the wake of a binational crime rise. Joint operations between the Singapore Police Force and the Royal Malaysia Police Force would be carried out to punch scammers in the face—I mean, dismantle scam syndicates—among other efforts.
After all, Singapore got into #1 for a scam-related list; watch this to the end and you’d understand:
The leaders also acknowledged that the MOU on Cooperation to Fight against Illicit Trafficking of Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances has expired. No; this does not mean you can become a drug lord now—a new MOU is being currently worked on, so you can toss those ideas in the bin.
Intellectual Property (IP)
An agreement on intangible assets (IA) and intellectual property (IP) cooperation was signed between the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) and the Intellectual Property Corporation of Malaysia (MyIPO).
This would administer patents and related programmes for both innovators and businesses.
According to the leaders, an MOU regarding higher education is in the works. This MOU would strengthen student and staff exchanges, as well as promote exchanges of scholarships between recognised higher education institutions in both countries.
Singapore and Malaysia would also share valuable information and experiences in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET). Training programmes for administrators and academic faculty would also commence.
100th Year Anniversary of the Causeway
Yes, you heard that right: the Causeway will be having its official 100th birthday party on 28 June 1924! And although you may not be a Prime Minister, you’re invited too—so mark this milestone in your calendar, and celebrate this special connection between Singapore and Malaysia through a variety of joint events, performances and showcases.
Although we’ve to wonder: By then, who would our Transport Minister?