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Singapore watching political developments in Malaysia 'very carefully': PM Lee

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Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said Singapore is watching political developments in Malaysia very carefully.

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said Singapore is watching political developments in Malaysia very carefully.

This comes amid criticism of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's handling of the debt-laden 1MDB and a Wall Street Journal report that said nearly US$700 million was deposited in Mr Najib's personal bank accounts from the state fund. Later, a Cabinet reshuffle ousted Malaysia's deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin - seen as a move to quash vocal critics of 1MDB.

Mr Lee was speaking to Singaporean academic and diplomat Chan Heng Chee, who was interviewing him for a programme called "A Conversation With The PM: Our Future, Our People" which will be televised on Sunday. A part of the transcript was released to the Singapore media on Friday.

Mr Lee said Malaysia is Singapore's closest neighbour, in terms of geography as well as trading ties and investments. Many Singaporeans live and work in Malaysia, and vice versa, making the Causeway and the Second Link the busiest international borders in the world.

"And so when something happens in Malaysia, we watch very carefully and are very concerned how it affects us. We have very good relations with Malaysia, I personally have very good relations with Prime Minister Najib, so we hope that Malaysia will remain stable, that we will be able to have a government there which we can do business with and cooperate with, as we have been doing the last few years.

"When something happens which could cause either a political upset or social or security worries, I think we have to watch very carefully. The generation which experienced the 60s and 70s knew how intertwined we were, instinctively. The new generation has grown up separate so our societies have become more distinct, but in fact the inter-relationships are very close and we do have to watch."

Mr Lee also said he is "very worried" about the rapid spread of the influence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has also reached Singapore as well as Malaysia and Indonesia. But he added that Singapore has a programme in place to help those who have been "led astray".

Singapore takes the matter very seriously, he said. "We have picked up a few people in Singapore who wanted to go, we know a few people who did go, we have picked up people who have gone and wanted to go and got turned back, and came back here."

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Home Affairs said a self-radicalised man who was on his way to join ISIS in Syria had been arrested and detained under the Internal Security Act.

"We have a good programme with the Religious Rehabilitation Group, working with people who have been led astray, people who have been detained. Working with their families, helping their families to see through a difficult time and working with the community, so that the community is not led astray.

"But I think no matter how good our programme is, it is not possible for us to identify every last person who typed ISIS and searched for it on Google and found some link, some preacher and got led astray. We just have to be vigilant and work hard at it and hope that we catch them earlier."

He added that Al-Qaeda in the earlier generation did not have access to social media to the same extent that ISIS has.

"In 2001, Facebook I think did not exist. ISIS has been able, very intelligently, to use the Internet and social media to reach out, to indoctrinate, to recruit and to subvert - including in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore," Mr Lee said.