Singapore succession won’t upset status quo with Malaysia, experts say

KUALA LUMPUR, April 20 — Malaysia’s bilateral relationship as well as trade and investment with Singapore will likely continue following with the republic’s change of leadership from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to his deputy, Lawrence Wong, next month.

Several analysts and economic observers predict that Wong and his administration will continue on his predecessor’s policies on Malaysia, with an emphasis on Johor due to its proximity and traditionally close relationship with Singapore.

They cited the current stable relationship and shared vision for both countries, with projects such as Johor Baru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link scheduled for 2027 and also the Johor Singapore Special Economic Zone (JS SEZ) as well as the Special Financial Zone (SFZ) in Forest City.

Lee, who has been Singapore prime minister and the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) secretary-general since 2004, has said he will step down on May 15.


The 72-year-old politician and former Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) brigadier general will hand the republic’s leadership over to Wong.

Wong, a 51-year-old Singaporean politician, economist and former civil servant, has been serving as Singapore’s deputy prime minister and PAP’s deputy secretary-general since 2022.

Wong earned praise for handling the island’s Covid-19 pandemic, and has been seen as Lee’s successor since April 2022, when the ruling party chose him as head of the fourth generation (4G) of leaders.


Prior to Wong, Deputy Prime Minster Heng Swee Keat had been Lee’s designated successor, but withdrew himself in 2021 citing health and personal reasons. This initially threw PAP’s succession plans into disarray before Wong was named.

Both Wong and Heng are designated as Singapore’s deputy prime ministers, where the former was appointed in 2022 and the latter in 2019.

Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) director (special projects) Shahriman Lockman said that Wong and the incoming Singapore leadership will continue with their approach to the current bilateral relations with Malaysia.

He said the Singaporean leadership, which is drawn from the PAP elite, were a cohesive cadre that shared consensus on the broad outlines of policy, especially on foreign affairs.

“We shouldn’t expect any change in their approach to bilateral relations. Wong, as the incoming prime minister, has had a lot of time to prepare for this job,” he told Malay Mail when contacted.

Shahriman added that he was confident that Wong and his administration will have been thoroughly schooled on Singapore’s time-tested policies towards Malaysia.

“He’s not going to have to fix something that isn’t broken,” he said in reference to Wong and Singapore’s well established and tested set of domestic and foreign policies.

Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research senior fellow Azmi Hassan agreed that the foreign and economic policies between Singapore’s incoming and outgoing administrations will not see much difference.

He told Malay Mail that Wong would likely retain previous policies that have been laid down by Lee.

However, Azmi said Wong as the incoming prime minister will have to work harder on the domestic front due to the coming Singapore general election scheduled for next year.

He said Wong has been proven to be a loyal deputy minister and finance minister, but his stint has always been overshadowed by Lee.

“After May 15, Wong has less than a year to show that his leadership is on par or better than his predecessor.

“With the Singapore general election looming, Wong needs to be more protective of Singapore,” he said, touching on Singapore’s innovative approaches in time of need.

Early this year, Malaysia and Singapore signed an agreement on the creation of the JS SEZ in Johor. The designation for Forest City as a SFZ is to boost investment and lower the cost of doing business by offering several incentives.

Additionally, both countries are also working on infrastructure connectivity projects such as the RTS Link and the high-speed rail (HSR) project that would connect Malaysia to Singapore.

South Johor SME Association adviser Teh Kee Sin concurred with the general view that Wong is expected to continue with Lee’s policies with Malaysia-Singapore ties.

He explained to Malay Mail that Singapore has always been known to have a prudent and stable leadership, where the previous prime ministers have laid down strong foundations for the next generation to continue from.

“This can be seen from Singapore’s first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew’s time in power where the leadership was passed down seamlessly to Goh Chok Tong and later Lee Hsien Loong,” he said.

Teh, a long-time Johor-Singapore trade observer, said Lee as the outgoing prime minister has helmed the republic for more than 20 years and laid very strong foundations in the government’s policies.

“With that, I believe that Wong as the incoming prime minister will not have much problems fitting in his new role,” he said, adding that Wong is seen to be more than capable in continuing Singapore’s relationship with Malaysia and also Johor in particular.

As per most of Singapore’s ministers, Teh said Wong comes in as being highly educated and has served in various government roles with the right exposure before being appointed as the incoming prime minister over Heng.

“A lot is in the planning and Wong will need to work hard. This includes continuing the close traditional ties with the Johor government and the state’s royal family in light of the upcoming projects between both countries,” he said, in reference to the JS SEZ, Forest City SEZ and also the RTS Link project.

Malaysia Datuk Entrepreneurs’ Association (MDEA) president Datuk Seri Jacky Ker Cherk Yee also shared Teh’s views that the incoming Singapore leadership helmed by Wong will continue from his predecessor.

“Both Malaysia and Singapore have always enjoyed cordial and friendly relations in the socio-economic areas.

“We believe this relationship, especially the Johor-Singapore ties, will continue with the change of new leadership in the republic,” he told Malay Mail.

Ker, who is a Johor-based property developer, said he was confident that Wong will continue the Malaysia-Singapore trade and investment policies of Lee.

At present, he said there are many areas for both Malaysia and Singapore businesses to explore and work together in.

“There is a need to attract more investment to the JS SEZ and Forest City SEZ that will hopefully make Johor a developed state by 2030,” he said.

Both Malaysia and Singapore share significant political, economic and cultural ties based on a common past, and were once under the British colonial rule.

At present, the two countries have a mutually beneficial relationship. Singapore has become the residence of more than a million Malaysians, and an estimated 300,000 cross the Johor Causeway daily for work in the republic.

Singaporeans also regularly travel to Malaysia, where many businesses in Johor rely on those coming from the other side of the border.

Both countries also engage in investment and trade where Singapore and Malaysia were each other’s second-largest trading partners in 2022, with bilateral trade reaching U$83.53 billion (RM400 billion).

Singapore also ranked as one of Malaysia’s top sources of foreign direct investment, contributing 8.3 per cent to Malaysia’s total investments in 2022.


This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.