STEPHANIE GARCIA WRITES – As Singapore’s president, Dr. Tony Tan Keng Yam, made his first diplomatic visit to neighboring Malaysia, Singapore news outlets stressed the importance of a strengthened relationship, while Malaysia sang a better-off-without-you tune in its own media.
The Straits Times and Singapore-based Channel News Asia stressed the value of the visit and focused on President Tan’s desire for increased connectivity between the countries, who were both founding members of ASEAN and believe in its potential. Both publications repeatedly quoted President Tan, although Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s remarks were absent.
Channel News Asia, for example, quoted President Tan in saying, “Improved connectivity through projects such as the High Speed Rail Link will further enhance our economic cooperation and people-to-people interactions. We are dreaming big together, so our peoples will gain an enriching and secure future together.” Does Prime Minister Najib Razak want this too? Who knows. The largest English language newspaper in Malaysia, The Star, had absolutely nothing to say about the visit.
In fact, just two days before the visit, The Star featured a story titled “When Singapore and Malaysia Were One,” highlighting the adjustment of families who had been torn apart during the split. Interestingly, the perspectives of the narrators all stressed an affinity for their beloved home country and described the struggles of adjusting to the foreign and newly fast-paced Singapore or their deep satisfaction with remaining in Malaysia.
The lack of a public narrative promoting neighboring relations with Singapore is telling. Singapore stresses its concerted efforts to improve relations and legitimizes Malaysia’s shared interest in ASEAN, while Malaysia remains silent. Is Malaysia acting as an envious older sibling, hesitant to admit the success and shared values of Singapore?
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