MALAYSIA — Singapore has agreed to temporarily halt planning and land reclamation activities at Pedra Branca (Batu Puteh) following Malaysia’s verbal and written opposition, according to Malaysia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Datuk Mohamad Alamin.
“Malaysia has stated its position that Singapore has no right and is not justified in continuing planning and land reclamation activities until both countries have finalized the maritime boundaries in the waters,” said Datuk Mohamad during his winding-up speech on the motion of thanks for the Royal Address in Parliament on Thursday (23 February).
In addition to determining maritime borders, Datuk Mohamad added that negotiations to discuss Singapore’s unilateral development plan on Pedra Branca have also been initiated by both countries.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, together with relevant government core agencies, is monitoring current developments and studying actions that can be taken from various aspects, based on international law and bilateral diplomatic relations,” he said.
He stressed that Malaysia remains of the view that the Pedra Branca issue needs to be handled diplomatically with good intentions.
“We also hope Singapore will respect and not take any action that reflects bad faith,” said Mohamad.
Datuk Mohamad also said that Malaysia and Singapore have established a special mechanism to implement the judgment and address other related issues through the Malaysia-Singapore Joint Technical Committee (MSJTC).
He also clarified that “Batu Puteh” is the official term used by the government, and not “Pulau Batu Puteh” (Batu Puteh island).
“It (Batu Puteh) does not qualify as an island according to Article 121 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982.”
“This is also in line with the Cabinet decision dated Aug 13, 2008,” he said.
The prolong dispute over Pedra Branca between Singapore and Malaysia
Located approximately 40 kilometres off eastern Singapore, Malaysia staked a claim to Pedra Branca when it published a map of its territorial waters and continental shelf boundaries in 1979.
In response, Singapore protested in 1980, and subsequently brought the issue to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2003.
After careful deliberation, the ICJ awarded the sovereignty of Pedra Branca to Singapore, leaving the Middle Rocks ((Batuan Tengah)) to Malaysia.
The Barisan Nasional government filed an application in 2017 to review the ICJ’s decision.
In 2018, as advised by then-AG Tan Sri Tommy Thomas, the Pakatan Harapan government led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad decided to withdraw the application before the case was heard on 11 June that year.
On 27 January of this year, Attorney General Tan Sri Idrus Harun revealed that the Unity Government Cabinet viewed the decision to withdraw the application as “not in order” and “improper.”
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has urged Singapore to examine the reclamations carried out in the Pedra Branca area to ensure they were not affecting the environment and the country’s borders with Malaysia.
He also ordered his Cabinet to prepare a White Paper on Pedra Branca to be tabled in the Malaysia Parliament for further action.
Mr Anwar assured Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that Malaysia’s decision would not affect the good bilateral relations between the two countries.