Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
described the Johor-Singapore special economic zone as a “substantial and promising project” during a leaders’ retreat with Malaysian counterpart Anwar Ibrahim
in the city state, saying both countries expected to sign a memorandum of understanding as early as January, South China Morning Post reported
Plans to accelerate a cross-border economic zone are signs of a “diplomatic and collaborative” approach by Singapore
to deepen relations, analysts said.
Johor Bahru, capital city of the southern Malaysian state of Johor, is about 25km north from Singapore, and Lee said the project would enhance the flow of goods and people across the border and boost economic attractiveness.
“We have great hopes. But first we have to do the feasibility study, and we have to negotiate the MOU, and we’re hoping to have that done by early next year,” Lee said during a press conference at the 10th Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat. “It’s a lot of work, but we would like to see it done as soon as we can.”
Analysts said the tone and outcome of the leaders’ retreat indicated that bilateral ties were headed in a positive direction, and were optimistic that both countries would be able to deepen cooperation in areas such as the special economic zone.
The Johor-Singapore special economic zone is positioned to attract investors in areas such as healthcare, electronics and finance. With specific details yet to be fleshed out, analysts said the size indicated potential but it was too early to project on the likely economic dividends.
During the retreat – widely seen as a litmus test for bilateral relations – Lee and Anwar discussed a range of issues, including land connectivity and long-standing territorial disputes. Other areas prioritised for development include the Iskandar Malaysia project, a development corridor in Johor aimed at attracting foreign investors to Asean countries.
Singapore and Malaysia have deep economic ties and the city state is also among the largest contributors of foreign direct investments in its northern neighbour, making up more than 8 per cent of its total foreign direct investment last year.