Er Dr Lee Bee Wah: To ask the Minister for Defence on the issue of Singapore's defence (a) how does our armed services react to any violation of Singapore's sovereignty; and (b) at what juncture will our services challenge any intruding ship or aircraft and be prepared for all consequences.
Mr Dennis Tan Lip Fong: To ask the Minister for Defence whether steps have been taken or will be taken to prevent any further Malaysian Government vessels from entering the waters which Singapore has recently gazetted as part of her port limits on 6 December 2018 besides the existing Malaysian Government vessels which are currently within such waters.
Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen:
In his statement to Parliament yesterday, the Minister for Foreign Affairs comprehensively set out this Government's position and that of the Malaysian agencies with regard to the intrusions by Malaysian Government Vessels (MGVs) into Singapore Territorial Waters (STW) (Tuas). Despite our disagreements, both sides want to resolve differences through discussions and peaceful means. To this end, the two Foreign Ministers agreed at their meeting on 8 January this year, to set up a working group of their officials that will “discuss the legal and operational matters to de-escalate the situation in the waters off Tuas, and will report within two months.”
Against this context, Members of Parliament, Mr Dennis Tan and Er Dr Lee Bee Wah, who has converted to written question, have asked how our security personnel will respond to intrusions into STW (Tuas). It is a matter of public record that Singapore has been exercising jurisdiction in STW (Tuas) without any protest from Malaysia until 25 October last year. Our Police Coast Guard (PCG), Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) and Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore will therefore continue to protect and assert our sovereignty over STW (Tuas) and the waters within Singapore Port limits.
Our security agencies carry out their operational duties with the utmost professionalism. While our security agencies do have the capability to compel the intruding MGVs to leave, they have been ordered for now to exercise restraint and avoid escalating tensions with Malaysia, so as not to jeopardise the conditions necessary for constructive discussions and peaceful resolution of the dispute. Since late November 2018, when intrusions by MGVs began, our security personnel have repeatedly pressed these vessels to withdraw from STW (Tuas). We will continue to do so as their presence does not strengthen Malaysia's legal claims in any way and indeed, as we have said before, can result in mishaps or regrettable incidents.
Singapore has welcomed assurances by the Malaysian government that they would take measures to de-escalate the tensions in STW (Tuas). We hope that all Malaysian agencies will abide by this stated policy. Incidents like the recent incursion by the Johor Menteri Besar (MB) are provocative and escalatory, and contradict the officially stated policy of the Malaysian government. Tensions and real risks increased during this incident. Our security agencies had detected early the movement of the MB's entourage, which sharply increased the number of MGVs in STW (Tuas) from two to five. Our PCG and RSN vessels responded promptly to this provocation, as they had to. As a result, the total number of vessels in the area more than doubled. These provocations do nothing to help resolve disputes and indeed can precipitate incidents on the ground which will do lasting harm to bilateral ties.