On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Making up will be hard task ahead

Following the meeting, at least, two ministers readily put on record  their displeasure of events that had taken place since March 11 when Malaysians first found out the disparaging remarks made by Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew against Johor.

Singapore Foreign Minister S. Jayakumar has much to do if the republic sincerely wants to mend fences.

Beside making the relevant quiet diplomatic approaches, he will have a chance to meet his counterpart Datuk Abdullah Ahmad Badawi next week.

It will be their first meeting after the diplomatic row between the two countries erupted.

The two leaders will attend the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)  ministerial-level meeting in New Delhi from April 48, and an informal meeting of Asean ministers has been scheduled on April 7. Asean countries are also members of NAM.

While Asean matters will be the concern of the meeting, there is nothing to stop Jayakumar from having separate bilateral talks, officially or unofficially, with Abdullah on how Malaysia and Singapore should get on with their relationship.

As chairman of the Asean Standing Committee, Abdullah will chair the informal meeting with discussions centred on the admission of new Asean members and preparation for the summit in December.

And there is nothing to prevent other Asean members from talking about the diplomatic tiff between Malaysia and Singapore and its effect on Asean.

At the summit, which Kuala Lumpur will host, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Mr Goh Chok Tong will meet and going  by tradition, the two premiers will meet separately.

It will be a heavy task for Jayakumar because Malaysia is in no mood to restore diplomatic ties to the previous level. As Dr Mahathir said, it will take time to heal.

Jayakumar will have a second shot in Kuala Lumpur during the one-week Asean ministerial meeting beginning July 24.

The two foreign ministers will be the ones to assess the situation and  make recommendations to their respective heads of government.

Wisma Putra is fully aware of how Singapore has been reacting to Malaysia's increasing economic competitiveness in the region.

The Straits Times, which often reflects the views of the republic's  political establishment, acknowledged in its recent editorial that growing economic competition was a factor in the squabble that resulted fromLee's remarks.

“The fact is that competition for markets, investments and labour is  increasingly pitting one country against the other. Mr Lee's indiscretion was, in the circumstances, a godsend for those itching to knock Singapore down a notch or two,'' it reported.

While Goh has tried to blame the Malaysian press for inaccurate reports which were supposed to have exacerbated the issue, he should also look at the files of the Singapore media.

For example, the Singapore media has on numerous occasions taken a negative stand against Malaysia for issues such as the proposed land bridge at the Malaysia-Thai border and the East Asia Economic Caucus.

Even the private sector, such as the Genting Highlands resort, a favourite holiday destination for Singaporeans, has not been spared from bad press. Such reporting creates the perception that Singapore does not wish to see its people spend money outside the island.

The Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange, which is far more attractive than its Singapore rival, is another favourite target.

Such finger-pointing by Singapore leaders, instead of admitting their poor handling of relations with Malaysia over recent years, will not help to end the row.

Goh, in reacting to the tiff, quoted a Malay saying Air dicincang tidak akan putus, walaupun dicincang dengan pisau (water cannot be separated, even by a knife) which he said was the nature of Singapore's relationship with Malaysia.

It is good that Goh understands the importance of a good relationship between the two countries but he must move beyond words.

As every schoolboy knows, there is a much simpler Malay saying Sesat di hujung jalan, balik ke pangkal jalan (if you are lost at the end of the road, then you must go back to where you came from). Similarly, sesat surut, terlangkah kembali.

There is a moral to both sayings while a person must admit when he is wrong, he must also correct the mistakes he has committed.