Singapore's act of sending "warships" to "chase away" Johor's Chief Minister Osman Sapian was unnecessary and a "severe" overreaction, said Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
In a broadcast of the Oxford Union forum by Astro AWANI on Friday (18 Jan), Dr Mahathir delivered an address that touched on the 14th General Election last year and how it has transformed the political landscape in Malaysia, given that nearly six-decades of uninterrupted rule by the Barisan Nasional coalition was ended overnight on 9 May after Malaysians went to the polls.
Dr Mahathir is the first Malaysian - and democratically-elected Asean - statesman to have been invited to speak at the Oxford Union.
Responding to a query from Darrion Mohan - a Singaporean second-year undergraduate History and Politics student at the University of Oxford - regarding the ongoing maritime dispute and whether any measures will be taken against instances such as the Johor Chief Minister's act of visiting "the waters unilaterally again", Dr Mahathir said: "When the Menteri Besar went [into the disputed waters] without our permission, he thought that it was Johor's waters, [and] that's why he went there."
"I mean, the reaction to his going there is quite ... severe, as if we are going to war ... He is going to on a ship into neutral waters," the Prime Minister stressed.
Mr Mohan argued otherwise, stating the following:
These are not neutral waters ... These are waters that, even in your 1979 map that we don't recognise, you haven't actually claimed those [waters] before, until you suddenly came out last year and said, "Oh, these are suddenly Malaysia's territorial waters".
Dr Mahathir rebutted Mr Mohan's statement, stating that "It is not Singapore's waters either ... It is international waters. And the ... Menteri Besar can go into international waters without Singapore sending warships to chase him away", to which Mr Mohan responded: "I fundamentally disagree", inviting laughter from the audience and the Malaysian Prime Minister himself.
Following the dialogue on Friday, Mr Mohan uploaded the following video to his Facebook profile on Saturday (19 Jan) with the following caption: "Had a great exchange with Malaysian PM Tun Dr Mahathir at the Oxford Union, where I asked him about the ongoing maritime dispute between Singapore and Malaysia."
The Oxford undergraduate added: "I hope that the Mahathir government reciprocates this spirit of goodwill demonstrated by Singapore and approaches negotiations over the airspace and maritime disputes with a constructive attitude.
"Finally, during our exchange, Dr M repeatedly referred to the disputed waters off Tuas as “international waters”.
"This contradicts previous statements from both Dr M as well as the Malaysian Transport Minister who stated that the disputed waters within the new Johor port limits are Malaysia’s territorial waters.
"Dr M’s concession that these are in fact international waters significantly undermines Malaysia’s initial claim," argued Mr Mohan.