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Singapore says Malaysia ties face 'downward spiral' but hopes for amicable outcome

Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad
Singapore's ties with neighboring Malaysia could face a "downward spiral" over a series of maritime and airspace disputes, the wealthy city-state's foreign minister said on Monday, adding that he hoped they could be resolved amicably.

The disputes are the latest development in the neighbors' long-running spat over part of the Singapore Strait, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

Vivian Balakrishnan's comments came after Singapore protested to Malaysia on Sunday over a state minister's presence on a Malaysian vessel the island said was in its territorial waters illegally, and called off a planned meeting on commercial cooperation.

Malaysia's recent actions have upset the status quo that had been in place for years, said Balakrishnan, who held a meeting last week with his Malaysian counterpart, Saifuddin Abdullah, where they agreed on steps to defuse the tension.

"These actions did not bode well for our bilateral relationship," Balakrishnan told parliament. "They created the risk for a dangerous downward spiral of measures and countermeasures.

"Singapore remains committed to finding an amicable resolution through dialogue," he said, adding that if negotiations failed to produce an acceptable solution, Singapore was prepared to seek international dispute settlement.

In December, Singapore pushed back against a move by Malaysia to extend the limits of a port in its southern state of Johor, saying the new boundary encroached on its territorial waters, a statement the Malaysians called inaccurate.

Earlier, Malaysia told Singapore it intended to take back control of airspace over a part of Johor that Singapore had managed since 1974, following the introduction of a new landing system at Singapore's Seletar airport.

The landing system required aircraft flying into the small Singapore airport to take a flight path over Malaysian airspace, to which Malaysia objected.

Singapore was once part of Malaysia but the two separated acrimoniously in 1965, clouding diplomatic and economic dealings for years.