Move on from Pedra Branca, focus on South Ledge

Move on from Pedra Branca, focus on South Ledge (nst.com.my)

October 14, 2021 @ 7:57pm

Pedra Branca or Batu Puteh -NSTP file pic
Pedra Branca or Batu Puteh -NSTP file pic

LETTERS: Recently, ex-attorney general Tan Sri Apandi Ali contended that Pedra Branca, or Batu Puteh, could still be claimed by Malaysia.

This statement may cause confusion, as the right to revise the decision made by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) lapsed back in 2018, stipulated clearly in Article 61(5) of the Statute of the ICJ.

Pedra Branca is now with Singapore while Middle Rocks, just 600m away remains with Malaysia. The ICJ did not decide on the status of South Ledge. Malaysia should move on from Pedra Branca as it is now a lost cause.

We should instead work towards finalising maritime boundaries between Malaysia’s Middle Rocks and Singapore’s Pedra Branca. In addition, efforts should be made to ensure South Ledge, a low-tide elevation which is geographically closer to Middle Rocks, remains part of Malaysia.

At the same time, both states should consider postponing their plans to reclaim land until maritime boundary lines delimiting territorial seas of both nations have been resolved. However, if reclamations works are to be carried out, these are some suggestions that could be adhered to by both countries to avoid future disputes.

First, it is clear from the judicial pronouncement of the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) back in 2003 on the reclamation of Pulau Tekong, the way forward for Malaysia and Singapore is to jointly cooperate for better coordination and management of the region.

Pursuing land reclamation around Pedra Branca requires Singapore to consult its neighbour so as not to cause another potential dispute that will put both countries in a legal and diplomatic predicament.

Secondly, there is need to consult each other continuously in cases involving land reclamation at both Pedra Branca and Middle Rocks.

Thirdly, reference to reports of experts to determine the environmental impacts of Singapore’s construction activities will be very useful as indicated in the Permanent Court of International Arbitration between the Philippines and China where the extensive reference to the reports of experts appointed by the Tribunal to determine the environmental impacts of China’s construction activities.

Appointing independent experts was one of the steps taken by the Tribunal to ensure the Philippines’ claims were well-founded, given China’s non-participation.

It is imperative for Malaysia and Singapore to continue working together and cooperate in area of common interest and prosperity. The close proximity of both Pedra Branca and Middle Rocks warrant for better management and joint collaboration in scientific and environmental protection in the area.

Again, Malaysia should focus on delimiting its maritime boundaries with Singapore and to ensure South Ledge is placed within Malaysia’s maritime space. Like it or not, Pedra Branca is a lost cause. The ICJ Statute has clearly said so. Time to move on.

Rahmat Mohamad
Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law
Universiti Teknologi Mara.

Mohd Hazmi Mohd Rusli
Associate Professor at the Faculty of Syariah and Law, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia and senior research fellow at the Asian Institute of International Affairs and Diplomacy (AIIAD), Universiti Utara Malaysia.


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times

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