Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan wrapped up his visit to three Malaysian states yesterday after meeting Terengganu’s leaders and discussing opportunities for them to gain knowledge on building industrial parks.
Terengganu, a state governed by the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), has long been seen as one of the backwaters of Peninsular Malaysia. It is known more for its idyllic islands of Redang and Perhentian. But an upcoming project, the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), has given the state government hope that it can branch out into the industrial sector.
“Hopefully, they can bring a delegation (to Singapore) and do a roadshow to show potential investors from Singapore the opportunities here,” Dr Balakrishnan told reporters after his meeting with Terengganu Menteri Besar Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar. The minister extended an invitation to Dr Ahmad to visit Singapore, an offer which the state leader said he hopes to take up by this year end.
“People know Singapore knows how to plan for a successful industrial area,” Dr Ahmad said. “In the future we hope to have that kind of industrial area too, especially with the East Coast Economic Region, and with the coming ECRL.”
Dr Ahmad said the state hoped to learn from Singapore about running technical institutions to train skilled workers.
Dr Balakrishnan said the “key thing for industrial development in the future is having skilled labour”. Besides the need to have trained workers and an industrial area for Terengganu’s economic growth, Dr Balakrishnan said both parties also spoke on opportunities in tourism, in particular cruise tourism.
“What we need to do in South-east Asia is build up a network of nodes, of ports, that would result in overall increase in the number of tourists to South-east Asia, because there’s an expanded repertoire of attractions.”
Dr Balakrishnan also met PAS president Hadi Awang for a candid discussion. Engaging with PAS leaders is crucial for Singapore, said Dr Balakrishnan, and there is a need for mutual understanding as the party is “a political reality in Malaysia and it is here to stay”.
“PAS represents a significant strand of political thought and would always continue to enjoy significant political support,” the minister told Singapore media at the end of his trip.
“Both Singaporeans as well as PAS leaders need to be more familiar with each other. This is especially important now when we live in a time of rapid political change in Malaysia.”
Recapping his 500km road trip spanning three states run by different political parties, Dr Balakrishnan said it “was a good opportunity to meet the senior leaders from these parties at the state level, understand their priorities, concerns and plans”.
He said this was part of the Republic’s efforts to familiarise itself with Malaysian leaders from “across the political spectrum”.
The minister kicked off his visit on Tuesday in Negeri Sembilan, a state bordering Selangor, which is governed by Pakatan Harapan, which also holds federal power. On Wednesday, Dr Balakrishnan visited Pahang, a state run by Barisan Nasional and led by Umno.
“It was very useful for me to assess what their views are towards Singapore… In particular, for these three states, all of them are looking for investments, to move up the value chain,” Dr Balakrishnan said, noting that all three states will be served by the ECRL.
The ECRL will run from Malaysia’s north-eastern Kelantan to Terengganu and Pahang before cutting across the peninsula to Negeri Sembilan and ending at Port Klang in Selangor. The rail is expected to be completed by 2026.STS