S’pore, M’sia leaders agree to revise land swap accord as ties warm

Andrea Tan

Singapore and Malaysia agreed to swap six parcels of land under a revised agreement as they seek to boost relations that have been marred in the past by disputes over water supply and territorial claims.

The neighboring countries agreed in May to relocate the operations of a train station owned by the Malaysian government near Singapore’s business district, ending a decades-old dispute over land usage. Singapore has since made an “improved” land swap offer, the island’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in the city state today.

“That settles the matter which has been outstanding for nearly 20 years,” Lee said in a joint press conference with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak after the two held talks today. “It’s a matter of immeasurable satisfaction.”

Singapore and Malaysia, once united in a federation from 1963 to 1965, have taken steps in recent years to improve relations after bickering in the past over issues including the price Malaysia charges its neighbor for water and the replacement of the causeway linking the two countries. Today’s meeting, followed by lunch and durian moon cakes, is the third round of talks between the two leaders this year.

Singapore will swap four land sites in Marina South, in the center of the city’s Marina Bay business district, and two in Ophir-Rochor in exchange for railway land controlled by the Malaysian government, according to a joint statement released in Singapore today.

Moving forward

“We’re both delighted and relieved that we can now put this behind us and move forward,” Najib said, referring to the land swap agreement. “The current leadership wants to move forward and forge better ties.”

Still, the two governments disagree on whether development charges should be levied on certain land sites and will seek arbitration through the Permanent Court of Arbitration, according to the statement.

In exchange for the relocation of the immigration checkpoint and railway station, Singapore will transfer the Marina South and Ophir parcels of land to M-S Pte, a joint venture between Khazanah Nasional Bhd., Malaysia’s investment company, and its Singaporean counterpart, Temasek Holdings Pte.

Ties between the two nations have warmed since then Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took office in late 2003. Najib, who became prime minister in April 2009, and Lee have pledged to further improve relations.

Water dispute

About three months before Abdullah became Malaysia’s leader in 2003, both countries placed advertisements in regional newspapers highlighting their case in the water dispute. That same year, Malaysia’s then premier Mahathir Mohamad vowed to build a bridge to replace its part of the causeway, even without Singapore’s co-operation.

Since November 2003, Malaysia and Singapore’s stock exchanges have agreed to an alliance while the Singapore government’s investment units have bought stakes in Malaysian companies including Telekom Malaysia Bhd. and Proton Holdings Bhd. Malaysia’s investment company Khazanah has bought stakes in Singapore-listed companies including Parkway Holdings Ltd. and MobileOne Ltd.

The two nations settled a dispute over Singapore’s reclamation work in the Straits of Johor in 2005. In May 2008, the International Court of Justice ruled in favor of Singapore in a 29-year dispute with Malaysia over ownership of the uninhabited island of Pedra Branca. As part of the ruling, Malaysia won ownership of another rocky outcrop known as Middle Rocks and both sides agreed to abide by the court’s decision.


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