SINGAPORE: Government officials from Singapore and Malaysia met in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday (Jan 21) to continue discussions on the implementation of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) Judgment on Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge.
This was announced in a joint press statement by the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Singapore, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan and his Malaysian counterpart Saifuddin Abdullah on Wednesday.
The statement said that the Malaysia-Singapore Joint Technical Committee (MSJTC) met to discuss related issues arising from the ICJ judgement on the case concerning the sovereignty over Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge.
"This follows the desire expressed by the Prime Ministers of Malaysia and Singapore at the 9th Malaysia-Singapore Leaders’ Retreat in Kuala Lumpur on Apr 9, 2019 for both sides to resolve outstanding bilateral maritime boundary delimitation issues in the area," it added.
At the meeting, the Malaysian delegation was led by Secretary General of Malaysia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Muhammad Shahrul Ikram Yaakob while the Singapore delegation was led by the Permanent Secretary of Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Chee Wee Kiong.
It was further agreed at the meeting for the Sub-Committee on Maritime Boundary Delimitation of Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge to commence negotiations.
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.
Both sides have established a joint technical committee, which among other things, looks at the delimitation of maritime boundaries in the area.
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.
In June 2019, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad outlined that Putrajaya has accepted the ICJ ruling 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.
“(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," Dr Mahathir had said.
“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 added.
At the meeting on Tuesday, both countries agreed that the ninth MSJTC Meeting between them will be held in Singapore before the next Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat.