May 11: Relations Between Malaysia and Singapore

May 11, 2012: Relations Between Malaysia and Singapore
(Click to enlarge) From Left to Right: Joseph Snyder, Ambassador Chan Heng Chee, Thomas Reckford (Moderator), Ambassador James Keith, and Muthiah Alagappa.
(Click to enlarge) From Left to Right: Joseph Snyder, Ambassador Chan Heng Chee, Thomas Reckford (Moderator), Ambassador James Keith, and Muthiah Alagappa.

Relations Between Malaysia and Singapore

WASHINGTON, DC (May 11, 2012) – Relations between Malaysia and Singapore have been complicated ever since the mid-1960s, when Singapore was expelled from Malaysia just two years after independence from the United Kingdom. The creation of ASEAN in 1967, however, improved relations between the two countries, and cooperation has grown significantly in the last decade. There is still a natural rivalry between Malaysia and Singapore, based in part on religious and racial differences and historical legacies, but the countries have learned to work together for economic, political, and security reasons. In this off-the-record seminar co-sponsored with the ASEAN Studies Center at American University, and the Malaysia-America Society of Washington DC, a panel of experts will explored these and other issues affecting the relationship between these Southeast Asian neighbors.

The panelists provided the audience with an overview of the history between the two former British colonies, including the exclusion of Singapore when Malaysia gained independence and the expulsion of the territory after Singapore’s short-lived inclusion in the Federation of Malaysia in 1969. Despite a tremulous history, modern relations were characterized as on firm, stable footing as both nations learned to deal with each other in mature ways, including becoming significant trade and investment partners. The US role in Malaysia-Singapore relations was described as beneficial, with the relationship between the two flourishing the better US relations are with either. While outstanding issues over topics such as water pricing and air-space control remain, it is not expected that these will take away from the current positive trajectory of the Malaysia-Singapore relationship.

H.E. Chan Heng Chee has been Singapore's Ambassador to the U.S. since 1996. She was also Executive Director of the Singapore International Foundation, Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, and founding Director of the Institute of Policy Studies.

Amb. James R. Keith is now Senior Director at McLarty Associates, focusing on East and Southeast Asia. His distinguished career in the U.S. Foreign Service included serving as U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia.

Mr. Joe Snyder served as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer for thirty years, in posts that included Malaysia and Thailand. He was then President of the American Australian Association, Executive Director of the Asia Society's Washington Center, and Director of Asia Programs at the Atlantic Council of the U.S.

Dato' Dr. Muthiah Alagappa is Tun Hussein Onn Chair in International Studies in ISIS Malaysia and Non-resident Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He was founding director of the East-West Center Washington.