Nov 28, 2006

Malaysia calls for end to quarrels with Singapore

(Channel News Asia) KUALA LUMPUR : Malaysia called Monday for an end to decades of squabbling with Singapore, saying the neighbours could no longer afford the conflict in the face of growing regional economic competition.

Deputy prime minister Najib Razak said past ties had "often lurched from grudging civility to outright acrimony" but urged both nations to seize on "a palpable thaw" in relations in recent years to tighten economic links.

"We must raise our political will to work together where we can, and accommodate each other in areas where we cannot. We have no real choice. The economic logic is as clear as day," Najib told a Malaysia-Singapore business forum.

"If we choose to remain aloof, to go it alone, we risk being torn apart by competition," he said.

Malaysia's relations with Singapore have been rocky ever since the city-state was ejected from the new Malaysian federation in 1965.

The two nations have sparred on a number of issues, including the price of water Malaysia sells to Singapore, and sovereignty of a tiny island off the Malaysian coast.

And while economic ties are strong, Malaysia has aspired to compete with Singapore for investment, and as a regional hub for business and services.

"The unfortunate truth is that the relationship between Malaysia and Singapore has been primarily that of rivals," said Najib.

"We must eventually move beyond the rhetoric, and focus on the underlying fundamentals which are of mutal interest to us," he added.

Najib said Malaysia and Singapore "continue to be twin beacons of stability in a turbulent Southeast Asia that has been rocked by political upheaval and the threat of militant terrorism."

However, the countries are facing competition from regional economic powerhouses China and India, while other Southeast Asian nations such as Vietnam and Thailand are fast catching up, he said.

"For Malaysia and Singapore, the stakes are high. We are no longer the darling of foreign investors," said Najib.

The deputy premier said Singaporean investments into Malaysia had increased significantly in recent years, but also made a pitch for Singapore to help facilitate Malaysian acquisitions of Singaporean assets.

"With increasing competition, it simply makes common sense for Malaysia and Singapore to invest in each other's future," he said. - AFP/ch

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