No reason to take a dig at Malaysia over Batu Puteh — Mohd Hazmi Mohd Rusli

https://www.malaymail.com/news/what-you-think/2017/11/02/no-reason-to-take-a-dig-at-malaysia-over-batu-puteh-mohd-hazmi-mohd-rusli/1500689

Thursday, 02 Nov 2017 08:48 AM MYT

NOVEMBER 2 — In February 2017, Malaysia announced its intention to make an application to revise the decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) delivered in 2008 over Batu Puteh or Pedra Branca, as it is known in Singapore.

Later, in July 2017, Malaysia sought interpretation of ICJ’s Batu Puteh 2008 judgment.

This has caused several experts from Singapore making unfavourable comments against Malaysia, as reported in an article published in July 2017 entitled ‘Malaysia throwing ‘the kitchen sink’ with second Pedra Branca Challenge, say experts’. Is there a need for these experts taking digs at Malaysia?

Batu Puteh is now part of Singaporean territory, an outlying rock located 7.7 nautical miles off the Johor coast and about 24 nautical miles off the eastern coast of Singapore towards the opening to the South China Sea.

Batuan Tengah (Middle Rocks), located 1km away from Batu Puteh was awarded to Malaysia. The ICJ was silent about South Ledge.

Singapore based its claim, among others, on a letter issued by M. Seth Saaid, the acting Secretary of State, Johor in 1953 relinquishing Johor’s rights over Pedra Branca. This letter was one of the solid evidence that convinced the ICJ to award Pedra Branca to Singapore in 2008.

However, Putrajaya now contends that they have discovered three new documents exemplifying that Batu Puteh was never part of Singapore. The revision is still pending at the world court.

Experts on international law, politics and history in Singapore were making comments suggesting that the Malaysian government was desperate to show that ‘they have done everything they could’ to gain political mileage from the public at large.

Professor Simon Chesterman, the dean of the Faculty of Law of the National University of Singapore was reported to have made such a statement.  

This was further reiterated by Dr Mustafa Izuddin, a fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) of the Yusuf Ishak Institute who was quoted to describe the second submission in July as ‘a deliberative strategic attempt on the part of the Malaysian authorities to keep the Pedra Branca issue alive for domestic consumption’.

He was also reported to say that the revision was made as a sort of a public display to voters that the government is actually doing something to take back Batu Puteh from Singapore – to make them appear as a hero.

These statements were unbecoming, particularly when they were uttered by experts of international law who are fully aware of the concept of sovereignty of a State.

Firstly, Malaysia’s applications did not violate the Statute of the ICJ – Putrajaya was just exercising its rights as a State-party to the proceeding as provided by Article 61(1) of the Statute of the ICJ.

Secondly, these were intended to resolve this issue peacefully, as promoted by the Charter of the United Nations. These criticisms, one way or another display arrogance and disrespect towards Malaysia’s right as a State party.

These statements may have been their own personal academic opinions. Nonetheless, if the government of Singapore shares the same sentiment, this may directly or indirectly compromise ASEAN’s spirit of non-interference. Malaysia respects laws pertaining to domestic affairs of Singapore, for instance, the policies involving special rights of the minority Malays in the Republic protected by Article 152 (1) of the Singapore Constitution.

Article 152(2) of the Singapore Constitution provided for the safeguard of the Malay language but majority of Singaporeans, as reported by Straits Times Singapore in 2014, could not even speak fluently in the national language of Singapore. A report (recently retracted) lambasting the staff of Hospital Sultanah Aminah in Johor Bahru for their failure to speak English, as published by The Independent.sg is a stark example that the island republic does not even take cognizance of the importance of the Malay language despite its constitutional significance.

Malaysia, a Malay-majority nation has always refrain herself from making open criticisms against Singapore on this matter. It is Singapore’s internal affair and therefore should be respected.

For the past decade, Malaysia and Singapore have failed to draw agreed maritime boundaries surrounding the areas of Batu Puteh, Batuan Tngah and South Ledge. The effort has reached deadlock since 2013. As a good neighbour, it is therefore timely for Malaysia to make these applications to the ICJ.

It is beyond comprehension why such unwarranted baseless statements were made, particularly by academics from institutions claiming to possess world-class quality and prestige in research, publication and education. Even if it was true that the Malaysian government was using Batu Puteh to garner votes, this, nevertheless, has got nothing to do with Singapore. This is in fact Malaysia’s internal political matter.

It is to be noted that the existing good bilateral relations between Putrajaya and Singapore are maintained via mutual respect and not by badmouthing and taking jabs at one another. There are legal basis for Malaysia to apply for such revisions.

Let nature take its course.  

Mohd Hazmi Mohd Rusli (Ph. D) is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Syariah and Law, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia and a visiting professor at the School of Law, Far Eastern Federal University, Vladivostok, Russia.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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