KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad reiterated on Tuesday (Jun 25) that Putrajaya has accepted the ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over Pedra Branca, citing it as an example of how the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states have worked together based on mutual respect.
In his keynote address at the 33rd Asia-Pacific Roundtable, Dr Mahathir said while Malaysia feels strongly about its rights to Batu Puteh, which Singapore calls Pedra Branca, Putrajaya has accepted the ICJ's decision to award the rocky outpost to Singapore.
“(ASEAN) member states do not need to agree on everything to work well together. What counts is that we share basic principles of mutual respect, cooperation, sovereign equality and common regional prosperity and well-being.
“When there is a dispute, we go to the table and discuss and negotiate. If we fail we resort to arbitration or go to the International Court of Justice. We abide by the decisions,” he said, according to Malay Mail.
Pedra Branca is located 44km off Singapore’s east coast.
The territorial 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 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’s Tuesday remarks echoed his speech at the Nikkei Conference in Tokyo last month, in which he noted that ASEAN member states have opted for the legal route to sort out their differences when they cannot reach an agreement.
“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 then said.