TOKYO: The world is in dire need for a new order anchored on the rule of law, with countries resolving conflicts through negotiation and arbitration, said Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Thursday (May 30).
In a keynote address during the 25th International Conference on the Future of Asia, Dr Mahathir lamented that the current world order has failed as countries preferred to go down the violent path and threaten each other when they could not sort out their differences.
“We had several new world orders and they all seemed to have failed. And they have failed because we are still quite primitive. We are still relatively uncivilised,” he said.
“We think that conflicts can be resolved through confrontation, war, destruction and killing of people.”
In order to have a new world order, the prime minister said the first thing the world needs is to decide for all conflicts to be settled at the table.
Countries must be prepared to give up something to reach an agreement, he added.
“We have to decide that a win-win situation does not mean that we get everything we ask for. It means that we have to sacrifice something so that the other country will also be willing to make sacrifices. That is the way for the world to go,” Dr Mahathir said.
Citing the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) as an example, Dr Mahathir said the grouping of 10 countries have decided to come together and meet regularly to settle their problems at the table, instead of the battlefield.
As such, Southeast Asia is able to remain peaceful, with the parties in the region benefitting from the stability, he added.
RESPECT RULE OF LAW: MAHATHIR
In cases where the parties concerned are not able to reach an agreement, Dr Mahathir said they can take the legal route and go to the courts.
“This was the case in the conflict between Malaysia and Singapore over islands. These islands are definitely Malaysian islands, nobody can dispute that, but the court said it belongs to Singapore.”
“So what do we do? We accede to the court’s decision,” he said.
Dr Mahathir was referring to the territorial dispute over Pedra Branca – referred to by Malaysia as Batu Puteh – a rocky outpost located 44km off Singapore’s east coast.
The dispute dated back to 1979 when Malaysia published a map indicating that the island was within the country’s territorial waters.
The matter was brought to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2003, and on May 23, 2008, it ruled that Singapore had sovereignty over Pedra Branca, while Middle Rocks was awarded to Malaysia and South Ledge belonged to the state in whose territorial waters it is located.
Malaysia filed two applications after the ruling - one on Feb 2, 2017, to revise the ICJ's 2008 judgment. Its case was hinged on three documents discovered in the National Archives of the United Kingdom that demonstrated officials at the highest levels “did not consider Singapore had sovereignty over Pedra Branca” during the 1950s to 1960s.
The second application on Jun 30, 2017, sought an interpretation of the same ICJ judgment. It requested that the ICJ declare the waters surrounding Pedra Branca to be Malaysia’s and in turn, the sovereignty of South Ledge belongs to Malaysia – a move that Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs described as “puzzling”, “unnecessary and without merit”.
Public hearings for the two cases had been scheduled for July 2018 at The Hague. However, Putrajaya decided to drop the two cases to revise and to interpret the judgment in May 2018.
Dr Mahathir, in his Thursday speech, also cited overlapping claims between Malaysia and Indonesia on two islands. It is believed that he was referring to Pulau Ligitan and Sipadan in Sabah.
“The court decided that the islands belong to Malaysia, and Indonesia, despite feelings of unhappiness, has to accept the decision.
“That is the way of civilised people. If we resort to war and we keep on increasing our capacity to kill and destroy, then we cannot call ourselves a civilisation,” he said.
PEACE IN SOUTH CHINA SEA PARAMOUNT
Recounting how the dispute between Austria-Hungary and Serbia led to the World War I and the killing of millions of people, Dr Mahathir cautioned that the world could not afford to have even “one incident” happening in the South China Sea.
He reiterated Malaysia’s stance that there should be no warships being stationed at the waters.
“If they are going to pass through, they are welcome to do so, but to have an aggressive fleet here is not going to stabilise the area,” he said.
Washington has sent navy vessels through the areas claimed by China as "international freedom of navigation operations". Beijing has also stationed a rescue vessel in the disputed area.