Feb 23, 2013

Singapore - Singapore-KL rail link goes beyond economics, says K Shanmugam

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SINGAPORE: Foreign Minister K Shanmugam has said the high-speed rail link between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur goes beyond economics.

He said bilateral relations between Singapore and Malaysia have been on an upswing in recent years.

Mr Shanmugam was speaking to Channel NewsAsia in a "live" studio interview on Friday evening.

He said Singapore-Malaysia relations has seen a breakthrough since 2010.

"The substantive relationship between Singapore and Malaysia, if you look at the trade ties, people-to-people ties, Malaysia is Singapore's number one trading partner. Both ways, both benefit. And the political relationship has generally been good. In the last few years you can say it's been on an upswing," he said.

On Tuesday, Singapore and Malaysian Prime Ministers had announced plans to build a high-speed rail link between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

It is expected to cut travel time dramatically between the two cities - to a mere 90 minutes.

Mr Shanmugam was asked if the project could help Singapore tap on the Malaysian labour pool.

"Malaysia has been a large source for our, in fact the largest source for our permanent residents, our newer citizens, and also in our labour force. But the fact is Malaysia itself is facing a labour shortage. If you look at it today, Malaysia has had to import foreign labour into Malaysia, and we are finding it difficult to get people from Malaysia to Singapore. That's the reality," he said.

"The primary factor in this is it's going to increase people-to-people connectivity, in moving, travelling, working and playing, in each other's territory," he added.

The project will add to ASEAN connectivity, Mr Shanmugam said. "The ASEAN Economic Community, the vision of 2015 is one of bringing people of ASEAN together, across the social, economic and political pillars. And also, ASEAN connectivity, which means road, rail, airlinks, sealinks, all to be much more integrated. Ultimately, of course, hopefully the rail link all the way from Singapore down to southern China!"

Studies for the rail link have to be completed before the project can start.

But Mr Shanmugam said he sees "no reason why it shouldn't work".

He also gave an indication of how the cost could be split.

Mr Shanmugam said: "You can see from the map, KL to Singapore, where most of the rail will be.

As most of the rail will be on the Malaysian side, he said there is a logic to how cost could be split - depending on where it is.

As for the total cost and the location of the Singapore stop in the rail link, Mr Shanmugam said it's too early to tell.

- CNA/de

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