5 Bilateral Deals in Jeopardy With The Return of The ‘Crooked Bridge’ Man

After his hiatus of nearly 15 years, Mahathir Mohamad at age 92 is back in the Malaysian Political ring. The man who defied the International Monetary Fund during the Asian Economic Crisis of 1997-98 and upheld confrontational diplomacy with Singapore now serves as the seventh Prime Minister of Malaysia. In the wake of this news, we must wonder how existing ties between Singapore and Malaysia will change or even cease to exist. Are we in for more years of harmonious co-existence or will the straits of Johor become the American-Mexican border of our backyard? Here is a definitive list of five major bilateral agreements we’ve celebrated under Najib’s tenure that are in grave danger with the ‘Crooked Bridge’ man back in business: 

1. The Johor Bahru- Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS)

This is the second rail agreement, after the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail Agreement (below), that the two nations have signed in the span of two years. The agreement is multi-faceted and incorporates the all the possible concerns about an international RTS Link such as this one: technical, safety and security, commercial, financial and customs, immigration and quarantine (CIQ) arrangements. It is predicted to carry 10,000 passengers an hour in either direction and will greatly benefit commuters who use the causeway on a regular basis. Moreover, the RTS Link Stations are to be integrated with the local public transport networks in each country, making it easily accessible from the commencement of its service from December 31, 2024. 

Yet despite the many benefits, this might not be a reality. After Singapore gained independence in 1965, there remained several plots of railway land that Malaysia had previously controlled. The last we heard from Mahathir, he was still invested in getting back control of those lands and minimizing the links between Singapore and Malaysia. Building a shared railway network goes against that campaign. 

2. The Land Exchange Agreements 

As mentioned, there was a 20-year fight over plots of railway land in Singapore that were previously controlled by Malaysia. Both nations signed a Points of Agreement (POA) in 1990 and set the stage for joint land development, yet Mahathir objected to the agreement 3 years after signing it. Singapore broke the tension and called a truce with Najib on the matter in 2010, paving the way for both nations to celebrate the opening of two major properties developed by the neighboring nations’ state investments. The first is the Marine One project, which is a booming residence for big companies, and the second is a mixed-purpose DUO at the Ophir-Rochor boast office. Both spaces have already attracted large multi-national companies like Facebook that are said to boost national incomes for the two nations. However, as they were built on land Mahathir believes rightfully belongs to only Malaysia, there is no guarantee of what can happen, especially since he has already objected to a similar agreement before. 

3. The Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR)

After strong demands from global firms, particular from Japan, the HSR was proposed in 2016 to open up the markets of Singapore and Malaysia’s capital. The HSR is hypothesized to be Southeast Asia’s biggest infrastructure project and will reduce the travel times between the two cities from four hours by car to just about 90 minutes. The HSR is expected to be ready for the commute in 2026, but the same concerns outlining the possibility of the RTS apply now that Mahathir is back in power. 

4. The Water Agreement 

Najib and Lee recently reaffirmed their accordance with the 1962 Water Agreement, which ensures that Singapore has a right to withdraw up to 250 million gallons of water from the Johore river daily. Malaysia’s Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water (KeTTHA), the Johor State Government, Singapore’s Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR), and Singapore’s Public Utilities Board (PUB) have also collaborated on projects to increase the yield of the Johore river and to enhance the Linggiu Reservoir. Water is a scarce resource in Singapore and nearly 40% of it is imported from Malaysia. The Water Agreement ensures the safe and reliable import of water and symbolizes trust between the two natures. However, Mahathir, who has sided with critics of the agreement due to the increasing shortage of water in the Johore river, might have big amendments that can have dire consequences and Singapore can lose out on a large water source. Will the Water Security Agreement stand the test of time? The nation awaits.

5. Pedra Branca 

Pedra Branca was a territorial dispute between Singapore and Malaysia over several islets at the eastern entrance to the Singapore Strait. It began in 1979 but was largely resolved by the International Court of Justice by 2008. The final verdict was the Pedra Branca belonged to Singapore while Middle Rocks to Malaysia. While both Najib and Lee have endorsed this decision and publicly supported it on many accounts, Mahathir is well-known for his distrust of international organizations. With him back on the hotseat, there is a possibility that this decision might be brought up again after 10 years of harmonious agreement. 

A lot has changed since Mahathir was first in power- Singapore has a new prime minister, and the nations are friendlier than ever. Are the new agreements concrete enough to remain the way they are and withstand any fingers Mahathir might raise? Has Mahathir gained a new perspective and become more co-operative? Or will we have to strengthen our defenses and get ready to argue our stance all over again? In this changing political arena truly anything can happen.

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