Malaysia summoned Singapore’s high commissioner yesterday to respond to allegations of spying that risk damaging improved political and business ties between the Southeast Asian neighbors.
Indonesia and Malaysia have been key targets for Australian and US intelligence cooperation since the 1970s, facilitated in part by Singapore, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on Monday, citing documents leaked by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
Malaysia’s foreign ministry said it was extremely concerned and had already acted against earlier claims of espionage by the US and Australia.
“It cannot be overemphasized that spying against a good friend and neighbor is unacceptable and goes against the true spirit of and commitment to good neighborly relations,” Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs Anifah Aman said in an e-mailed statement before a meeting yesterday morning.
Relations between Singapore and Malaysia have improved after half a century of tensions over issues such as water supply and ownership of a railway station, with the neighbors cooperating on real-estate projects on both sides of the border and seeking to improve transport links.
Malaysia is a party to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations with Singapore and the US.
The Sydney Morning Herald cited a map from the US National Security Agency and leaked by Snowden showing Singapore forming part of a global network where cable traffic could be tapped.
Michele Batchelor, a spokeswoman for Singapore Telecommunications, declined to comment.
SingTel is 52 percent-owned by Temasek Holdings, a Singapore state-owned investment company.
Singaporean High Commissioner to Malaysia Ong Keng Yong said he met with Malaysian Foreign Ministry Secretary General Othman Hashim yesterday to clarify various news reports.
The envoy later said in a telephone interview he had referred the articles to relevant agencies in Singapore and did not have any information to comment further.
“Singapore values our good relations with Malaysia,” Ong said. “We have no interest in doing anything that might harm our partnership or the friendship between our two countries.”
Malaysia said in a statement last month it had sought clarification from US Ambassador Joseph Yun following allegations by Snowden that the US had 90 electronic surveillance facilities worldwide, including at its Kuala Lumpur embassy.
Yun said he received instructions to review the scope of surveillance, it said, without giving details.
“I don’t think we should be surprised that these sort of diplomatic statecraft are being practiced, even by the closest of neighbors,” said Eugene Tan, an associate law professor at Singapore Management University.
“The question now is whether some of the intelligence gathering may have crossed accepted norms,” he added.
The reports could also spur friction between Singapore and Indonesia, Tan said.
The Indonesians would probably be concerned whether the information is also being shared with Singapore intelligence, besides the Australians.”
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono spokesman Teuku Faizasyah did not respond to a mobile phone message seeking comment yesterday.