Public debate does little to resolve issues

  • Nation
  • Friday, 07 Feb 2003


IT WAS meant to be a historic moment. It was even broadcast live over RTM. 

But the handshakes and exchange of documents and pleasant greetings that followed after the signing of the special agreement to refer the dispute over the sovereignty of Pulau Batu Puteh/Pedra Branca to the International Court of Justice did not last long. 

A joint press conference by two senior ministers became a show of one-upmanship. It was un-diplomatic and ugly.  

The exchange of words in a sparring match witnessed at Wisma Putra in Putrajaya points to one thing – the state of the ties between the two countries. 

The press conference became a platform for both Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar and his Singapore counterpart S. Jayakumar to emphasise each country’s stance on matters over rights on Pulau Batu Puteh and the bitter dispute over water supply to Singapore. 

Despite assurances from both ministers that they did not wish to get into a debate, they nevertheless continued to do just that.  

Syed Hamid told reporters after seeing off Jayakumar that the fact that both of them met and were willing to answer questions openly showed the type of relations that Malaysia and Singapore had. 

“We have to recognise that we have our differences and some of the differences are not superficial, in terms of resolving disputes,” he said. 

It pointed to one thing though – that they remained deeply divided over nagging bilateral issues. 

And when the thorny question of water supply was raised, both said nothing new. Whatever hope there was to restart negotiations remained nil as both men made it clear that arbitration would be the way to go. 

The debate contributed nothing to bilateral relations except reveal each other’s stand and feelings over the unsettled disputes. 

Perhaps that has been how the bilateral relationship has been conducted behind closed doors and nothing new to the diplomats but yesterday’s event was an eye-opener for the media and public in how both sides have been dealing with each other.  

Immediately after the press conference, both ministers shook hands and adjourned for lunch. 

According to those present, unlike their verbal sparring earlier, both Syed Hamid and Jayakumar had a casual chat about golf, among other things, and cracked jokes over their wild mushroom soup, lamb, prawns and fish. 

If that is the way forward in bilateral relations between Malaysia and Singapore, the public on both sides of the Causeway are in for even more interesting developments.  

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