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Commentary: Give joint patrols off Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks a shot

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SINGAPORE: A bold suggestion came late last month from newly appointed Malaysian Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu.

One of the first few Cabinet Ministers to be appointed after Pakatan Harapan’s electrifying election victory, he had proposed for both countries to work together to strengthen security cooperation in the eastern Singapore Strait near Pedra Branca and Middle Rocks, which serves as an entry point to the busy Singapore Strait that links major economies in the Middle East and East Asia.

This idea was well received by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen who remarked that “even joint patrols with our agencies and their agencies, I completely agree with that”.

These remarks from both defence establishments came on the heels of controversial comments from Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad about reviewing the price of water Malaysia sells to Singapore.

But the idea of joint patrols in the area isn’t a new suggestion.

BACK TO 2003

Back in January 2003, then Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar proposed having joint patrols with Singapore off Pedra Branca as the challenges of operating in these narrow straits became clear to both sides.

Syed Hamid’s suggestion came in the wake of the collision between a Republic of Singapore Navy patrol vessel and a cargo ship about 1.8 km off the island.

“To me, it is good when both parties carry out monitoring ... each other's presence is made known so that there will not be any accident,” the top Malaysian diplomat stressed back then, pointing out that waters off the rocky outcrop accommodate a busy international shipping lane. He had added:

I think it's better for us to cooperate with each other and understand each other's presence without the intention of getting engaged in aggression or physical contact.

A view of the Causeway. (Photo: AFP)

Belying these comments were the testy nature of relations between both countries that year.

Both countries were in the midst of negotiating an agreement to refer the dispute over Pedra Branca to the International Court of Justice.

Negotiations on a........

© Channel NewsAsia