Singapore’s leader vowed Monday to strengthen ties with Malaysia, which is now led by a historic rival following a game-changing election.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said during a visit by his Malaysian counterpart, Mahathir Mohamad, that the countries had a “special bond” and were each other’s second-biggest trading partners. Singapore is also Malaysia’s second-largest foreign investor.
“Singapore and Malaysia will always have a good place for each other in our hearts, and because of our proximity and interdependence, we will always have an interest in each other’s development and success,” Lee said, adding that he looked forward to working with Mahathir.
Mahathir led Malaysia for 22 years before stepping down in 2003. During his term there were frequent sharp exchanges with neighboring Singapore and Lee’s father, its first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew.
In May, an electoral upset that toppled former Prime Minister Najib Razak brought Mahathir into power again. Mahathir had put aside a dispute with a former political nemesis to lead a four-party coalition to victory.
The 93-year-old plans to lead the country for at least two years before handing the reins to his former nemesis, Anwar Ibrahim.
Mahathir is on his first official visit to Singapore since winning the election. He said he hopes the two countries will maintain good relations, even with different administrations in power.
“Singapore and Malaysia are mutually dependent. Singapore has got no hinterland, but it must regard Malaysia as its hinterland. On the other hand, for a very long time, Malaysia had to depend on Singapore for its exports and imports,” Mahathir said.
Neither leader addressed bumps in projects since Mahathir has taken office. He has put the brakes on the construction of a high-speed rail connecting the country’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore.
Mahathir is also renegotiating a decades-old water treaty, and plans to raise the price of water sold to Singapore by more than 10 times.
On Monday, Mahathir expressed hope that the countries will be able to work together despite having a rivalry.
“Malaysia and Singapore are twins, in a way. Except that perhaps the elder twin is a little bit bigger than the younger twin and a little bit older,” he quipped, to laughter.
“It is not often that we see countries which come together, and then separated and still be able to … work together and help each other,” Mahathir added.
The two countries were briefly merged in 1963, but they separated two years later due to political and economic differences.