Johor takes centre stage, as Malaysia, Singapore leaders commit to enhancing ties

Productive and substantive discussions, in the words of Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, were had during the 10th Leaders’ Retreat between Malaysia and Singapore that ended today.

And Johor, being the Malaysian state that borders the republic, seemed to have taken centre stage, at least during the joint press conference held between Lee and his Malaysian counterpart, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, on the island nation this afternoon.

Lee, while addressing members of the media, stressed on the need to enhance cooperation, namely on economic links, and people-to-people ties. He also spoke about the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) that will enhance the business ecosystem in Johor Bahru and Singapore.

In his speech, Lee spoke about the need to strengthen cooperation on renewable energy and cross-border electricity trading. He also touched on strengthening connectivity between Singapore and Malaysia.

“The Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link between Johor Bahru and Singapore will be the third land link between both countries, and (its construction) is expected to be completed by end 2026,” said Lee.

The RTS Link is a 4km-long rail shuttle service that is expected to ease the congestion on the Causeway. Travel time between Bukit Chagar in Johor Bahru to Woodlands North in Singapore, and vice versa, is about five minutes.

Anwar, in his address, thanked Singapore for its support and increased investment and trade in Malaysia. The two leaders earlier witnessed the exchange of a memorandum of understanding in the field of entrepreneurship, and a side letter to improve provisions in the Third Malaysia-Singapore Business Development Fund.

“Our position (regarding the supply of water to Singapore) is clear. We have to honour the commitment to supply water from Johor to Singapore. We have to work jointly (with Singapore) … Johor will need to enhance the capacity for her own needs, and that of Singapore’s.”

Anwar said it wasn’t just about the price mechanism, but Singapore’s active participation in the management of Sungai Johor, with the state government.

To a question asked after the press conference, Anwar elaborated: “As for water, if we delay (the discussions), it will not benefit us. Speeding things up (the discussions) would mean increasing the price of water (sold), and for Singapore to help maintain Sungai Johor”.

He called on Singapore to speed up its research to widen and increase the capacity of the water in the river.

Singapore pays three sen (one Singapore cent) per 1,000 gallons of raw water, and sells treated water back to Johor at 50 sen per 1,000 gallons.

Lee later also spoke about easing the congestion at the Causeway. The other alternative land route is the newer Second Link.

“Apart from the (upcoming) RTS link, we will make full use of the capacity of the Causeway. The flow is also based on the CIQ (Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex) in Johor Bahru and in Woodlands (Singapore),” said Lee.

“We will develop the CIQ at Woodlands. This will require reclamation work to enlarge the footprint. Datuk Seri (Anwar) supports the project and we hope to see it through.”

Lee added that the preliminary scope of the SEZ was to improve the flow of goods and people, and to enhance the ecosystem of Iskandar Malaysia (in Johor) and Singapore. Lee added that Singapore had “great hopes” for its success.

On Oct 10, Lee hosted the Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar, and members of the Johor royal family, for dinner at the Istana in Singapore. It was posted on Sultan Ibrahim’s official Facebook account that the Johor Ruler “is a strong advocate for closer Johor-Singapore ties, noting that the neighbours, who are bound by geography and a shared history, could produce win-win outcomes with tangible benefits for their peoples and businesses by working together”.

In an interview in September, Sultan Ibrahim highlighted Johor’s potential in becoming a significant solar energy producer, given the state’s abundance of land.

Sultan Ibrahim, who is the next Yang di-Pertuan Agong, was also quoted as saying that Johor had unused land that could be used for solar energy production, and had identified Pengerang and Pontian as ideal locations. The Johor Ruler added that the state could supply solar energy to the republic.