Malaysia building a Forest City below Second Link

From ‘Mega reclamation project off Johor raises concerns’, 22 June 2014, article in ST

Singapore has expressed concern to Malaysia over a proposal for a massive reclamation project to create an island in the Strait of Johor below the Second Link. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) confirmed yesterday that Singapore has asked for more information so it can study the possible impact on the Republic and the strait. “They have agreed to do so and we hope to receive the information soon,” a spokesman said in response to media queries.

A report in the Malaysian daily The Star yesterday said that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has written to his Malaysian counterpart, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, about the project.

…The Star reported last Monday that China property developer Country Garden Holdings and a Johor government company, Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor, were planning the reclamation project called Forest City for luxury homes.

The idea to create a 2,000ha island – nearly three times the size of Ang Mo Kio estate – will take 30 years to complete, Mr Kayson Yuen, Country Garden’s regional president for the project, told the paper. A project map showed part of the man-made island under the Second Link, which connects Tuas in Singapore to Johor.

The Edge Review online magazine reported last month that Johor’s Sultan Ibrahim Ismail Sultan Iskandar was behind the project, which was being promoted actively by powerful Johor politicians.

Island in the stream

Nobody ever creates an artifical island, calls it ‘Forest City’ and expects it to be a miniature replica of the planet Pandora in Avatar, where the mode of transport is swinging vine and residents live in tree-huts. The name ‘Country Garden’ is also scathingly ironic given that these guys from China don’t build barns and landscaped lawns for a living, but high-rise luxury housing, with existing projects in Danga Bay. In 2012, the company acquired 22 ha of prime waterfront land in the Iskandar region, to the approval of Malaysia PM Najib. Even our own Temasek Holdings has got a stake in the region. CG’s logo is ‘To create a better SOCIETY with our existence’, which sounds eerily like Red Army propaganda. It doesn’t say ‘to create better neighbours with our existence’. In any case, our very Earth itself is better off if such globetrotting property developers never existed at all. Unlike how it’s named, there’s nothing remotely ‘green’ about building an entire artificial island from scratch in the middle of the sea.

Land use has always been a prickly issue between us and the Malaysians. In 2002, Malaysia’s Trade and Industry Minister called for his countrymen to SUE the Singapore government for our reclamation works along Tebrau Strait, even though these were within our borders. Fishermen staged protests about dredging affecting their livelihoods, while others complained about the narrowing of shipping lanes and damage to marine life. The Foreign Minister bashed us for our ‘selfishness’ and not being a ‘good neighbour’. It also wasn’t the first time that Singapore has embarked on land reclamation, leading some to speculate this was a case of the Malaysian politicians seizing the chance to ‘put Singapore in its place’ out of sheer jealousy. A year later, our neighbour decided to bring the matter up to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, arguing for our project to be ceased because it could ‘permanently scar’ the environment. We eventually won the case, but some refused to let the issue go even up till 2007, blaming a spate of floods in JB on our reclamation works on Pulau Tekong. Incidentally, Tekong means ‘obstacle’ in Malay.

Could this ambitious undertaking right under the Second Link be a major case of tit for tat? The Forest City project has powerful backing in the Sultan as well as a China conglomerate, and if even Najib endorses this like how he welcomed the Danga Bay development and our pleas go ignored, it appears that going back to international courts may be the only recourse. It is important, however, that both nations don’t lose sight of the bigger picture (or miss the ‘FOREST’ for the trees for that matter) in the pursuit of happy bilateral relations and economic growth. Not much is known of the long term environmental impact of any form of land reclamation, be in within or outside our borders, and the consequences of any human interference on a complex, interweaving ecosystem are often beyond our understanding, beyond the artificial boundaries we create between ourselves.

Even as we attempt to increase our own size by up to 9 ‘AMK towns’, there are valid concerns about the impact on tidal flows, even on the coastal waters of neighbouring countries. There are also concerns of the impact of our land expansion on native coral reefs. We should be careful not to be come across as having double standards if we’re plowing ahead at the expense of our own environment, not to mention other countries’. It’s like accusing a neighbour next door of having an all-day BBQ when we’re burning incense in our garden.  Before criticising the move, it would have been prudent to study what we’re doing to ourselves. It is likely however, knowing the temperament of Malaysian politicians, that if we make noise this time round, they’ll bring up the 2002 case again, saying that if Singapore can do it, why not us? At the rate of the sea being filled around us, it’s only a matter of time before what separates the two countries is nothing more than a couple of shipping lanes and a token bridge over troubled waters.

We already have a ‘transboundary’ problem with the Indonesians from the haze, now we have another one bugging us from the north. PM Lee, PM Najib, perhaps this would be a good time to remind you guys about this:

That’s what friends are for


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