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  • Singapore-Malaysian border security tensions and its historical origins

    By Alicia (Managing Editor) Singaporean and Malaysian ships passing through the sea of Tuas View Extension on 6 December 2018. Source: Today Online Singapore and Malaysia have experienced their fair share of border disputes due to their turbulent relationship. From the management of airspace in Southern Johor, a territorial dispute at the Tuas waters after Johor Bahru extended its port, to reclamation works done by Singapore that Malaysia claims infringes on their territory, the border disputes that Malaysia and Singapore have are complex, encompassing many aspects of border security. [1] Despite that, they have a symbiotic relationship with each other due to the water bodies and air spaces they share as neighbouring countries. Additionally, their proximity means that both countries are socially and economically interdependent on each other; they rely on each other for essentials like trade and water security. [2] The two nations are forced to interact and contest with each other on such matters to ensure its own survival, even if it comes at the expense of diplomatic relations over territorial disputes and other bilateral conflicts. There is no escaping the fact that Singapore-Malaysia borders hold the key to some of the most important trading routes in the world as a strategic chokepoint for economic and maritime trade. However, tensions between the two nations remain high, especially when it comes to security and sovereignty issues. With the rise of Mahathir’s coalition government to power recently, Malaysia has diverted its attention to taking a more aggressive stance on international issues in an attempt to distract the population from internal strife and the party’s inability to fulfill its promises to them. [3] This then prompts an investigation into Singapore-Malaysia border security tensions: how they originated, how they’ve manifested in different periods of Singapore’s and Malaysia’s history, and what implications these have on the security of Singapore. The history of Singapore and Malaysia When Singapore underwent merger with Malaya in 1963 to form the state of Malaysia, the relationship between them quickly turned sour mainly due to ideological disagreements between the two ruling parties. Singapore refused to give Malays in Singapore the same privileges that other Malays on the peninsula enjoyed, instead advocating for a society without racial prejudice. [4] The two governments ruling Singapore and Malaya respectively also could not agree on political involvement, as Singapore had a vibrant political scene since pre-merger that posed a threat to Malaya’s political hegemony. [5] This, along with other political disagreements between Singapore and Malaysian political parties, built tensions between the two that eventually led to their separation. Even until today, Malaysia’s bumiputra policy clashes directly with Singapore’s belief in racial equality, forming the basis of racial politics in both countries. Malaysia and Singapore also have distinct cultures and histories which shape their foreign policies differently. As a small Chinese-majority nation amongst Muslim “neighbours”, Singapore has to navigate the balance between appeasing Malaysia and Indonesia while also asserting its territorial sovereignty in the region. In a region where its neighbours are hostile to its very existence, Singapore needs to ensure it does not overly provoke its neighbours. The situation between Malaysia and Singapore, in particular, is tricky due to their shared history and geographical proximity, with Singapore and Malaysia sharing borders in one of the busiest trading ports in the world, aggravating the conflict in terms of the region’s economic and strategic importance to both nations. Both sides have projected many of their lingering post-independence sentiments into their interactions with each other regarding the security of their respective borders, leading to this becoming a recurring theme in the various disputes between the two nations. Instances of border disputes between Malaysia and Singapore The contestation over the 1979 sea border near Tuas is a key border dispute between Malaysia and Singapore. Malaysia first drew up their sea border near Tuas in 1979, which was not well-received by Singapore. [6] Both countries drew up an agreement in 1995 to mitigate this issue by revising the sea borders. However, Malaysia attempted to reverse course in 1999 by reverting to the sea border they had initially drawn up in 1979. [7] This amendment caused a lot of unhappiness in Singapore, where the move was perceived as an encroachment of their sea territory by Malaysia. Singapore-Malaysian Tuas sea border disputes in recent history. Source: The Interpreter More famously, the Pedra Branca incident elucidated the Singapore-Malaysian bilateral conflict when it came to their maritime borders, which was amplified on the international stage with the involvement of international entities. The Pedra Branca conflict involved Singapore and Malaysia having overlapping territorial claims over a series of small island territories in the far east of Singapore’s waters – Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge. [8] A conflict that has been going on since 1979 marked by overlapping delineations of territory on Singapore and Malaysia, the Pedra Branca Incident was raised to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2003, which gave a ruling on the incident in 2008. [9] The ICJ gave the island Pedra Branca to Singapore, which lies along one of the busiest shipping straits in the world. [10] Despite Malaysia’s history of owning Pedra Branca under the Johor Sultanate in the early 1800s, the island was in Singapore’s hands until 1980, which the ICJ assessed as “concrete manifestations of [a] display of sovereignty by the other State”. [11] Tensions between the two nations amplified with this incident, which saw the international community side with Singapore on the Pedra Branca issue. While the international community voted 12-4 in favour of Singapore for Pedra Branca, they voted 15-1 that Middle Rocks belonged to Malaysia and 15-1 that South Ledge belonged to whichever state’s territorial waters it belonged to. Malaysia filed an appeal to the ICJ on the basis of historical claims over the island but ultimately dropped their case in 2018. [12] The historical and economic implications of holding onto the territorial sovereignty of Pedra Branca complicated the issue on both sides, along with pre-existing geopolitical tensions between them on border disputes. Air border disputes have also been a part of Malaysia-Singapore border disputes. Malaysia and Singapore have accused each other’s fighter jets of encroaching on each other’s territories in the past. More recently, in January 2019, Malaysia protested Singapore’s building of an Instrument Landing System (ILS) in Seletar Airport, which they believed would “stunt development around the Pasir Gudung industrial district” in Malaysia. [13] Despite some significant improvements in their ties over the past few years, old, unresolved problems between the two countries, including border issues, still tend to arise from time to time in part due to their domestic politics. [14] Changes in domestic politics, such as the emergence of new leadership in the respective countries, have the potential to influence the trajectory of Singapore-Malaysian border issues. With the change in the Malaysian Prime Minister from Najib Razak to Mahathir Mohamad in 2018, tensions surrounding the border disputes rose during this period as the change in Malaysia’s head of state also came along with a resurfacing of “old bilateral issues”. [15] While Najib was more laissez-faire in his leadership style and approach to Singapore, the aggressive personality of Mahathir, who holds onto more nationalistic sentiments and has been actively involved in Malaysian politics since Singapore’s independence, have aggravated relations between the two nations on the border disputes with his hardline stance on Malaysia-Singapore issues. Mahathir, in his approach towards Singapore-Malaysian border disputes, brings heightened sentiments characteristic of Singapore-Malaysian relations in the past, compared to the softer approach taken by leaders on both sides today. For the leadership and people of both countries, the border disputes between them have historical legacies that still impact present-day politics. Implications on Singapore’s relationship with Malaysia How should we look at Singapore-Malaysia relations with due consideration of these border disputes? Undoubtedly, the two states have had a tumultuous relationship. The border disputes have merely been one part of a larger series of events that have taken place between the two nations. Developments in both nations have the potential to affect each other due to the inextricable relationship the nations share, in terms of geography, history, politics and culture. An example of these tensions include the development of the Seletar airspace which provoked a hostile reaction from Malaysia. Similarly, the development of Malaysia’s Port of Tanjung Pelepas (PTP), which opened in 2000, has also incited competition against Singapore along the lines of maritime trade, reopening fissures between the two. [16] Spats between Singapore and Malaysia also have trickle-down effects on local politics within the two nations, along which national issues of significant importance lie on the state of bilateral relations between the two nations. Disputes between the two nations over issues like the import of water to Singapore using Malaysian water pipes, the manning of a railway station’s custom post by Malaysia authorities in the heart of Singapore, and restrictions on the RSAF’s use of Malaysian airspace have created “the impression that the two countries are in a state of perpetual conflict that could spill over into military hostilities”. [17] Yet, it is equally important to recognize the symbiotic relationship that Malaysia and Singapore have – both nations are forced to interact with each other as close neighbours for mutual benefit, whether they like it or not. This has culminated in the balancing act of attempting to defend their own national agendas while retaining some semblance of mutual harmony, with each side knowing the strategic stronghold their neighbour wields over them. Singapore and Malaysia will undoubtedly have to continue to carefully navigate their turbulent relationship. Their geographical proximity and shared history leave them with no other alternative but to interact with each other constantly in the region and on the international stage. What will come next in emerging Malaysia-Singapore security tensions remains a pressing question, but it is nonetheless important to revisit trends from the past to analyse and craft approaches to take in the future. The key takeaways from the Singapore-Malaysia border disputes – like the two nations having to uphold territorial sovereignty and diplomacy with states with different interests – are pivotal in how Singapore deals with international affairs. In light of Singapore’s strong condemnation of territorial encroachments in response to bigger international developments like the Russia-Ukraine war, and recent surprise attacks by Hamas on Israel, it is worth examining how Singapore’s stance on international relations originated within its region through her relations with her neighbours. Bibliography [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] Alicia is a Year 3 History and Political Science major who serves as the Managing Editor at The Convergence. She loves to explore sociopolitical issues (e.g., gender, socioeconomic status) through writing, though she is also interested in international affairs and historical events. She's a campus accommodation hopper (she's also known as Ms. Worldwide), having stayed in RH in Y1, UTR in Y2, and TH in Y3. She can be spotted playing badminton and squash with her TH recreational team or camping in her room while enjoying a good book or video essay.

  • Sustainable Cities, Liveable Communities: NUS Environmental Policy Forum 2023

    By Tessa (Managing Editor) NUS Environmental Policy Forum 2023 Sustainable Cities, Liveable Communities On Friday, 14th April 2023, the NUS Environmental Policy Forum (EPF) was held at the NUS Ngee Ann Kongsi Auditorium from 7pm to 9pm. Against the backdrop of the Singapore Green Plan 2030 (SGP2030) and growing interest in environmental policy and issues among youth, the second iteration of EPF was organised by the Environmental Policy Division of the NUS Students’ Political Association (NUSPA). Helmed by Project Director Neha Hegde, the team comprising Alisha Ganesh, Chloe Wong, Lutfil Goh and Tessa Foo, under the guidance of NUSPA President Abdul Qayyum and Vice-President (Policy Planning) Illam Kathir, worked tirelessly to pull off the event. The theme for EPF 2023 was “Sustainable Urban Living”, focused on the intersection between sustainability and contemporary urban infrastructure and lifestyle. This year’s forum aimed to catapult students towards realising the connection between their areas of interest and the wider environmental cause; allow the ministry to hear from diverse perspectives that could hopefully influence the approach taken to policy making; and provide a platform for youth to hear from leaders on what is being done and voice their opinions. Figure 1: Participating in the Q&A session In line with NUSPA’s objective to encourage political awareness and active discussion of current affairs among youth, EPF 2023 brought together a plurality of voices from policymaking, academia and civil society to participate in a closed-door dialogue. The distinguished panel consisted of Guest-of-Honour, Dr Koh Poh Koon, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment and Manpower; Ms Sadaf Ansari, Architect and Senior Lecturer at Ridge View Residential College; and Ms Terese Teoh, President of Singapore Youth for Climate Action (SYCA). The panel dialogue was moderated by Ms Audrey Tan, Science Communication and Outreach Lead at the NUS Centre for Nature-based Climate Solutions and Tropical Marine Science Institute. Figure 2: (from left to right) Ms Sadaf Ansari, Dr Koh Poh Koon, Ms Audrey Tan and Ms Terese Teoh on stage Participants enjoyed complementary Halal bentos and eco-friendly beeswax food wraps as a door gift, supported by REACH, the government feedback and engagement unit under the Ministry of Communications and Information. The audience included undergraduates from NUS, Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore Management University (SMU) and the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), as well as Junior College students and representatives from environmental groups. Panellists discussed hot-button issues such as greenwashing, the role of indigenous practices in policy development and economic trade-offs in pursuit of sustainable solutions, as well as the integration of Sustainable Urban Living into the SGP2030. Key Points of Discussion 1. Greenwashing The evening kicked off with a lively discussion on the issue of greenwashing where panellists weighed the economic benefits of a resale market for pre-loved or secondhand goods [1]. They ultimately came to the consensus that greenwashing misleads consumers and is harmful to the sustainability movement as a whole, given companies’ vague and deceptive promises regarding their green practices. [2] The need for more transparent legislation or auditing processes was emphasised to ensure that companies are not greenwashing their products. [3] 2. City in Nature Residents of Singapore have complained about disruptions of urban wildlife species in their daily lives, including incidents of otters killing koi fishes. [4] However, there are also plenty of flora and fauna that are pleasant to the senses. To foster harmonious coexistence between humans and the environment, building respect and appreciation for nature through education is paramount. Environmental education in schools can be broadened to include environmental humanities, shifting away from an anthropocentric lens to resource and land use to a more ecocentric approach. This would complement existing curricula that disseminate scientific knowledge on climate change. [5] 3. Green Economy To support the sustainability transition, Singapore will need ‘green skills’—which is knowledge in nascent technologies like hydrogen fuel, and in services such as Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) consulting and green finance. In 2021, more than 450 roles across 17 sectors were identified to require green skills. [6] These needs are likely to grow as decarbonisation efforts accelerate. Firstly, to remain competitive amidst the emergence of green jobs in the market, youth were encouraged to continue upskilling themselves. Secondly, on the grounds that the climate crisis affects all sectors of society, and undergraduates major in diverse disciplines including but not limited to environmental studies, political science, engineering, computing and business, upon becoming working professionals, youth can leverage their knowledge and skill sets to advance the sustainability transition in their respective fields. 4. The role of indigenous practices in policy development A forum participant asked how global governments could tap into indigenous practices in developing sustainable policies. Given that indigenous communities often serve as custodians of the land, it is vital for governments to provide platforms for these groups to contribute their know-how in ecosystem and biodiversity conservation. [7] In response to the question, a panel member raised the case study of Nepal’s successful forest restoration by locals, and how its lessons are applicable to policymakers and practitioners in translating global commitments into concrete action. [8] 5. Economic trade-offs in pursuit of sustainable solutions “How might policymakers square the green interests of the population with the interests of the corporate sector?” and “Are these green ideas in conflict with capitalism?” were some of the questions that highlighted a tension between environmental gains and economic trade-offs. Opinions were divided amongst the panellists. There was the view that these do not have to be mutually exclusive priorities. For example, Singapore could potentially use its market power as an internationally-acclaimed business hub [9] to push for decarbonisation of the shipping sector. [10] Nonetheless, a concession was made that even the most well-designed environmental policies generate winners and losers. To cushion the impacts faced by certain industries and workers, policies could offer compensation and boost public support for more ambitious plans. [11] Adopting a long-term approach to this issue might prove beneficial. Although climate resilience efforts (coastal and flood protection) would be costly for Singapore in the short run, amounting to a projected $100 billion over the next 50 years, [12] in the long run, low-lying Singapore would be safe from rising sea levels, making it a worthy investment. What can individuals do? 1. Catalyse action on the ground The immediacy of the climate crisis necessitates urgent action. Participants were encouraged to contribute within their communities by volunteering for environmental causes. Get involved on campus today: Individuals may also initiate ground-up projects, through avenues such as the SG Eco Fund, [13] Sustainability Exchange, [14] or the Youth for Environmental Sustainability Programme. [15] 2. Read up on environmental issues and adopt a data-driven approach To avoid merely virtue signalling and championing causes superficially, individuals can read articles, books, reports or other factually accurate material on climate change to inform themselves. By adopting a data-driven approach, individuals can translate their sentiments into tangible impact and become the force of truth in their communities. SYCA breaks down climate policy and scientific jargon in an easily digestible manner through their primers. They also host events throughout the year to promote environmental awareness. Join SYCA’s Telegram channel to receive the latest updates: 3. Engage with government stakeholders On the basis that individuals know best what they would like to see in their neighbourhoods and communities, participants were encouraged to exercise agency by participating in consultations with public officials on environmental issues, and not hesitate to voice out any ideas or suggestions they might have. Whether an idea is right or wrong, a discussion about it will result in fruitful learning. Conclusion By bringing together experts from diverse domains, EPF 2023 hoped to inform youth on what is currently being done and inspire them to innovate on what they can bring to the table in future. Climate change is an intersectional issue, and by including those who have been traditionally disenfranchised from discussions on climate policy, we hope that our participants (and readers) are empowered to take action in their own communities, making the collective shift towards a greener future. Bibliography [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] The Environmental Policy Division (EPD) is the newest division under NUSPA, established in 2022 amidst greater interest in environmental policy and issues among NUS undergraduates. Following through on NUSPA’s mission to promote political awareness and active citizenry, EPD provides an opportunity for youth to deepen their understanding of environmental policies by participating in initiatives with like-minded peers for a healthy exchange of ideas, opinions and solidarity. Tessa is a second-year Political Science major who is a Managing Editor at The Convergence. She believes in the importance of raising political awareness and interest among the youth, hopefully inspiring them to mobilise and take action on the issues that concern them. She seeks to research and write informative articles on current affairs, taking a nuanced approach to her work. Tessa is always down for a cup of iced matcha latte, much to the protests of her wallet. In her free time, she enjoys reading, playing netball, or going for an evening run.

  • Recap: Ridout Road Bungalow Rentals

    In early May, Opposition politician Kenneth Jeyaretnam from the Reform Party published social media posts about the Ridout Road properties involving two ministers occupying these prime properties, questioning how they were able to pay market rent. On May 12 2023, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) issued a statement providing the timeline and the circumstances of how Ministers Shanmugam and Vivian rented the properties. The statement described that both ministers were each renting properties in Ridout Road in full compliance with the relevant procedures. The statement concluded that both ministers had rented the properties through a bidding process, with Mr Shanmugam the sole bidder for 26 Ridout Road (tenanted to him on June 2018) and Dr Balakrishnan the highest bidder for 31 Ridout Road (tenanted to him on July 2013). The SLA statement did not mention how many bids were received, or how much the properties were rented out for. These details will be provided at the Parliament sitting. Members of Parliament filed questions based on the SLA’s clarifications, and there had been a rise of speculatory comments about the statement online. As such, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong directed the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) to investigate the matter on May 17. The CPIB is an independent agency that is responsible for the investigation of corruption offences in Singapore and reports directly to the Prime Minister. Subsequently on 22 May 2023, PM Lee instructed Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean to conduct a separate review in order to address wider potential process or policy issues, which go beyond the scope of CPIB’s investigation. On June 28, the CPIB and SM Teo released the findings of their reviews. The CPIB said in their report that there was no preferential treatment given to the ministers and their spouses. Both properties had been vacant since 2013. In 2018/19, the lease availability of both properties was made known to the general public and advertisement signs were prominently displayed at their gates. The CPIB also found no disclosure of privileged information in the process of the rental transactions, and no evidence to suggest any abuse of position by the ministers for personal gain. The CPIB report also found that a total of $1,085,900 was spent to refurbish the Ridout Road bungalows rented to two ministers. The sum was used to repair gas pipes, water pumps and sewerage systems, as well as for termite eradication, among other things, said the SLA in an interview with The Straits Times. Since both properties had been vacant for a long time, substantial repairs by Singapore Land Authority (SLA) were needed to ensure that they were in habitable condition. This is SLA’s standard practice for the properties it rents out. Both ministers also made additional improvements to the properties at their own cost. The properties, with these improvements, will be surrendered to SLA at the end of the ministers’ tenancies. The Attorney-General’s Chambers has agreed with the findings and recommendations and directed that no further action be taken as the facts did not disclose any offence. Senior Minister Teo Chee Hian found from his independent review that both ministers, public officers and private sector intermediaries involved had conducted themselves properly in the rental transactions. For instance, Minister Shanmugam removed himself from the chain of command and decision-making related to the rental. Minister Balakrishnan’s official responsibilities do not include SLA. Both ministers were unaware of SLA’s Guide Rent, which is the minimum rental to be achieved for each property. They determined their bids independently and met the respective Guide Rents which were in line with market rates for similar properties. SM Teo’s report also stated that there was no abuse of power or conflict of interest resulting in the ministers gaining any unfair advantage or privileges, and the process of renting out the two properties did not deviate from the prevailing Singapore Land Authority (SLA) guidelines and approaches in renting out black-and-white bungalows for residential purposes. Ministerial statements on the rental of two Ridout Road bungalows will be delivered by Minister Shanmugam and Minister Balakrishnan at the next parliament sitting on July 3 2023. Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean will speak on the review of rentals for 26 and 31 Ridout Road, while Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong will speak on the rental of state properties.

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  • Submission Guidelines | The Convergence

    Submission Guidelines The Convergence covers a wide range of topics and issues related to Singaporean society and politics. It aims to present broad views and clear thinking by interested students and individuals, so as to raise greater awareness and stimulate active and constructive discourse among our readers. Articles should be written in proper English and delivered through a clear and cohesive tone that can be read with ease and pleasure by a general audience. The Convergence accepts and publishes online articles and materials of several categories according to topics. Examples of Topics: Pertaining to Education, Economics, Society, Health, Environment and Politics. Other topics are welcomed through discussion with The Convergence team. Articles that relate to Singapore would be preferred. Between 900 to 1,800 words. Please provide a (website) link to citations if used. Please also provide a Reference list. General guidelines for submissions: All pieces for The Convergence are to be written in English. Pieces have to be double-spaced and adopt the Times New Roman font, size 12. Justify all pages and use 1-inch margins on top and bottom as well as left and right. Acceptable file formats are .doc, .docx, although .docx is preferred. Our publication uses the Chicago/APA manual of style, but we do not require submissions to be formatted as such upon submission. All submissions or relevant pitch to be sent to . Pieces that have been published on The Convergence may be re-published on other publication platforms with the approval of the Editorial Board. Such pieces should also credit The Convergence as the original publisher. ​

  • NUSPA Social Policy Division | The Convergence

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