KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will not play to Singapore's tune or let itself be used as a scapegoat to make Singaporeans forget their economic woes and problems, said Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
The Prime Minister said that from now on, Malaysia would not engage in a war of words with the republic or try to out-argue it on issues.
If there were provocative comments from Singapore, he said Malaysia would respond only if there was a need and this would be done in a non-aggressive manner.
“We are not going to be the object of its hate campaign to make its people forget their problems. We regard the people of Singapore as our neighbours, friends and even brothers and sisters.
“We have no quarrel with them. We have no intention of depriving them of water,'' the Umno president told reporters after chairing the party's supreme council meeting yesterday.
Dr Mahathir believed the current aggressiveness of the Singapore Government against Malaysia was because of the various internal problems the republic was facing.
“For the very first time, Singapore is facing a very difficult economic situation. The economy has achieved minus growth. There is a lot of unemployment, people formerly working in banks are now taxi drivers.
He said that Singapore Government-owned companies had lost “billions of dollars'' through investments overseas, such as in Enron, Virgin Airlines, Air New Zealand and in China and that they did not want to disclose this to their people and have the matter discussed in public.
He said there was also evidence of factions within Singapore's ruling People's Action Party with each trying to outdo the other in their attacks against Malaysia.
Dr Mahathir said it was absurd to suggest that the water problem between the two countries was not a question of price but of sovereignty, adding that such an argument was, of course, “the invention” of the (Singapore) Foreign Minister.
“We think this talk about war and sovereignty should stop. It (Singapore) is an independent country. There is no way we are going to colonise it or go to war with it,” he said.
Dr Mahathir maintained that Singapore could afford to pay the amount Malaysia was asking for water without making a dent in its Budget, as the country had US$50bil (RM190bil) in foreign reserves.
Malaysia has been selling water to Singapore at three sen per 1,000 gallons since 1927 and wants to review the price.
Dr Mahathir reiterated that three sen was a ridiculous price in the current day and age.
The Prime Minister said Singaporeans were welcomed here as tourists and investors.
“I'm sure it is a bit of a strain to live on a small island, obviously they must get out. Please tell our Singapore friends we have nothing against them,” he said, adding that they were welcomed to drive on Malaysian roads which were quite long compared to those in the republic.
He said they were also welcomed to buy property here, costing more than RM350,000.
In Malacca earlier, the Prime Minister was asked by reporters whether the recent development in Malaysia-Singapore relations would discount any possibility of further negotiations between the two countries.
Malaysia was always ready to talk, he said, adding that Singapore, however, must reciprocate the sincerity shown by Malaysia to settle the outstanding issues amicably.
“If they don’t want to pay (for water), then say don’t want to pay, it will be easier,” he said after opening the automobile production plant of Honda Malaysia Sdn Bhd at the Pegoh Industrial Estate.
He said the same was also true of other outstanding issues between Malaysia and Singapore, including the overlapping claims over Pulau Batu Puteh.
On the letters he wrote to Singapore Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong ,which were made public by Singapore, Dr Mahathir said he would not be able to “get along” with someone who publicised letters that he had written.
“I don’t feel nice. It is like when you write letters to your girlfriend and then she circulates them to her other boyfriends,” he said, adding that it was not nice of Singapore leaders to publicise letters written by others as it showed a lack of faith.
Now, he said, Malaysia and other countries would find it difficult to send letters to Singapore.
In an Interview with CNBC, broadcast on Astro's Channel 91 last night, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said that Malaysia-Singapore relations were akin to a soccer game.
“Our heads can sometimes knock together when we move around to go for the ball.
“I had been a Foreign Minister for nine years. I’ve been good friends with their leaders over the years. I enjoy good relationship with the Singapore Government and I will continue to maintain the good relations,” he added.
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