Friction with KL just ‘little blip on horizon’

MINISTER Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has described the recent controversy over his comments on the marginalisation of Chinese in Malaysia as merely a “little blip on the horizon” of bilateral relations.

Asked to comment on the response of the Abdullah administration, as compared to how it might have been handled by the previous government, he said: “I would say that there’s a change for the better. It’s measured, it’s calm, and it has an eye to future cooperation, which we welcome.”

MM Lee told a public forum last month that Malaysia and Indonesia, Singapore’s predominantly Muslim neighbours, had “systematically marginalised” their Chinese minorities.

Shortly after his comments were made, Malaysia, which has a large Chinese minority, made known its objections and voiced concern that the remarks could inflame feelings among its Chinese community.

The Minister Mentor later sent a letter to Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi saying he was sorry for having caused him a “great deal of discomfort” with his remarks.

In his letter, MM Lee said that he was speaking to a liberal Western audience which wanted to see a stronger political opposition in Singapore.

He added that it was not his intention to interfere in Malaysian politics and that his comments were meant to show that Singapore needed a strong government to maintain good relations with Indonesia and Malaysia.

“After a decade of troubled relations with your predecessor, it is the last thing I wanted,” he wrote, referring to former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.

In response, Datuk Seri Badawi indicated that he would not pursue the matter, but declined to say whether he accepted MM Lee’s expressions of regret.

The Minister Mentor said last Saturday that, for historical reasons, problems with Malaysia were bound to happen from time to time, given both countries’ different solutions to managing their multiracial societies.

“There is some basic and fundamental differences between the way they shape their society and the way we shape our society,” he observed.

But Kuala Lumpur’s response to the latest controversy suggested that it was looking ahead to working with Singapore, he said.

He noted that Datuk Seri Badawi had indicated that Singapore would play a role in the South Johor Economic Region, one of four new growth corridors designed to help propel Malaysia towards developed-country status by 2020.

MM Lee said: “After all, we made a difference to Batam, Bintan and Karimun. Surely we can make a difference to South Johor. That is if they want us to make a difference… It’s a win-win solution.”

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