KUALA LUMPUR (Dec 11): Singapore said yesterday that it is "encouraged" by Malaysia's undertaking that it would take all effective measures to de-escalate the situation on the ground over Johor Bahru Port's (pictured) limits, and handle the situation in a calm and peaceful manner.

In a statement yesterday evening, the Singaporean Ministry of Foreign Affairs also welcomed Malaysia's agreement to its proposed meeting of both countries' officials in the second week of January next year to exchange views on resolving the issue of Johor Bahru Port's limits.

The note was issued in response to the Malaysian government saying it was agreeable to Singapore's proposed meeting in a statement issued earlier today.

"While the Government of Malaysia is unable to accede to Singapore’s counter-proposal, Malaysia will take all effective measures to de-escalate the situation on the ground, reaffirming its position to handle the situation in a calm and peaceful manner. In the meantime, Malaysia reiterates the importance of strong bilateral relations between the two countries, and hope that discussions will commence expeditiously," Wisma Putra said in the statement.

Wisma Putra was referring to Singapore's counter-proposal issued on Dec 8 that the country return to the status quo prior to Oct 25 by withdrawing all its vessels in the disputed area. Oct 25 was when Malaysia published a Declaration of Alteration of Port Limits for Johore Bahru Port. Subsequently Singapore published its Port Marine Circular No 9 of 2018 dated Dec 6 that purportedly extended the country's port limits off Tuas.

Following the stand-off, Malaysia had proposed that both countries mutually cease and desist sending assets into the disputed area, pending talks of their outstanding maritime boundary issues. Singapore declined and made the counter-proposal instead.

In expressing its disappointment over Malaysia's decision on the return to status quo, Singapore reiterated that it was necessary to avoid misunderstandings and potential issues on the ground, adding Malaysia’s deployments in the area will not strengthen its legal claim and can heighten tensions. "Malaysia will be responsible for any untoward situations on the ground that arise from continued deployment of its vessels into this area," it said.

Nevertheless, Singapore said it hopes to "work with the Malaysian Government to find an amicable resolution of issues between the two countries in accordance with international law, and in the spirit of preserving our important bilateral relationship". — theedgemarkets.com

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