Singapore argues with Malaysia over criticism


Singapore has rejected accusations of interfering in Malaysian affairs and fired its own verbal salvo at a “negative” Malaysian media in a fresh war of words between the Southeast Asian neighbors.

The latest friction in the often testy relationship erupted when Singaporean Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong praised the achievements of Malays in Singapore and compared their progress favorably with Malays in Malaysia.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar described the speech as tantamount to interference in Malaysian affairs and said it was “full of innuendoes questioning the effectiveness of the Malaysian government to uplift the well-being of its people.”

But Singapore’s High Commissioner to Kuala Lumpur, K. Kesavapany, summoned by the Malaysian foreign ministry on Friday to explain Goh’s speech, defended it as a necessary counter to a series of articles in the Malaysian media.

The reports “erroneously alleged that the Malays in Singapore had been marginalized, and this was the result of discrimination by the Singapore government,” a Singaporean foreign affairs spokesman said Saturday, quoting Kesavapany.

“The unhelpful and negative comments by the Malaysian media on the position of Singapore Malays did not contribute towards good bilateral relations,” the diplomat told Malaysian officials.

The Malaysian media comments related to a 1998 book by a Malay Singaporean entitled “The Singapore Dilemma: the Political and Educational Marginality of the Malay Community.”

Kesavapany reiterated Goh’s statement “that given the significant progress made by the Singapore Malay community over the years, they cannot be said to be marginalized.”

In his speech to Singapore’s Malay-Muslim community last Sunday, Goh said that as of last year 25 percent of Singapore’s Malay workforce had upper secondary or higher qualifications compared to 14 percent in Malaysia in 1998.

He acknowledged that Malaysia’s Malays had proportionately more doctors, lawyers, millionaires and people holding top jobs in the public and private sector.

But 23 percent of Malay workers in Singapore held administrative, managerial and professional positions in 2000, compared to 16 percent in Malaysia in 1998, he said.

On Saturday Malaysia’s Syed Hamid defended his country’s media against criticism by Singapore and repeated his attacks on Goh.

Quoted by Bernama news agency, the foreign minister said Goh should merely have stated his response to the book.

“He can speak about Singaporeans … the Singapore Malays as compared to other races … that’s what is explained in the book,” he said. “The book does not explain the position of Singaporeans vis-a-vis Malaysians.”

He said the Malaysian media commented on matters of public interest, adding the Singaporean media often commented on Malaysian affairs. The media comments did not reflect the Malaysian government’s stand.