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ICJ: Pulau Batu Puteh belongs to Singapore

23/05/2008

    The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ruled by majority of 12-4 that Batu Puteh/Pedra Branca belongs to Singapore. The Court however rules by majority 15-1 that Middle Rocks belong to Malaysia.  However the South Ledge has been ruled belong to the state that owns the water around it, essentially an open discussion which will depend on the outcome of discussions between the 2 countries.  Finally the 28 years old ownership dispute is settled.  Win-win situation? (as claimed by Rais Yatim).  My house could be larger than that Middle Rocks islet!  So what is the big deal in fighting over the island sizes less than half a football field?  Ada minyak ke?  Is it really just to operate the light house for naval navigation?

Malaysia government led by AG, PM advisor and hired foreign QC/legal experts from Cambridge University (as if there is no qualified local counsel),  whereby Singapore uses their own local minister and counsels.  Waste of public funds?  [Latest:  read the comments below, very informative]

  the Middle Rocks

    South Ledge

5 Comments leave one →
  1. KunangKunangBiru permalink
    23/05/2008 6:44 PM

    No, its not about oil my friend.

    Its about where and how our maritime boundary will be fixed for good, which is far far more valuable than that piece of rock in the middle of nowhere.

    When the ICJ decided on Singapore, some significant nautica miles around the point will automatically be under Singapore’s jurisdiction which could be very significant in terms of fisheries and commercial shippings. Remember, we are not talking about ” somewhere in the middle of Pacific Ocean ” or sumthin’ but the notoriously strategic route between East and West !

    It is reported that Malaysia has lost some 13 square miles after the decision and I bet your house is not that big !

  2. 23/05/2008 8:01 PM

    Kunang2biru, Thanks for sharing your invaluable knowledge. About the size of my house (which is referring to Middle Rocks per se), it is just an exaggeration of affirming my contention. Just like the Chinese sayings of an older folk eats more salt than my rice consumption. Indeed Batu Puteh has an area of 2,000 m², and during the low water spring tide it measures, at its longest, a mere 137 m. It does not include Middle Rocks, which are two clusters of rocks situated 0.6 nautical miles (1.1 km) south of the island that is owned by Malaysia, and South Ledge, a rock formation visible only at low-tide, 2.1 nmi (3.9 km) to the south. Ya u r quite right it is estimated that Malaysia has lost 13km² but of territory of the surrounding water. The judgment never totally resolved the dispute for it only determined the ownership of the main islet but not where the maritime boundary is. So it is the marine features not the territory yet. One needs to construe the judgment to identify the ratio of it.
    By the way I’ve just downloaded a photo of Middle Rocks onto the post, judge it. Cheers mate, thanks again.

  3. Kim permalink
    24/05/2008 12:05 AM

    Yes spore get the island and malaysia get the rock. It is not the territory that matter most but the administration of the govt in how effective in dealing maritime business, this we are still far behind.

  4. 24/05/2008 6:22 PM

    An expert from Maritime Institute said that the owner owns all natural resources and minerals in the territorial water stretched 12 nautical miles from it shores according to the Law of the Sea. So it can be minyak!
    I agree with Karpal’s statement that the judgment is not a win-win one because the crux of the dispute was Batu Puteh and not the 2 small stones, so we actually lost.

  5. 29/05/2008 6:14 PM

    Foreign affairs is an arena where countries reveal their true nature by their actions and Malaysia should bear this in mind in bilateral relations with Singapore, writes Deva Ridzam.

    MALAYSIA was right all along. The International Court of Justice found that Pedra Branca had always belonged to Johor.

    Singapore’s arguments, among others, citing the doctrine of terra nullius (empty land or no man’s land) and even the construction of the lighthouse did not mean that Singapore ever had sovereignty over Pedra Branca.

    However, we failed to impress the ICJ on two crucial points.

    For over 100 years, we did nothing to positively assert our ownership over Pedra Branca in any significant way, leaving everything to the British.
    Then, we wrote that fateful letter in 1953 giving away this piece of territory in our waters to Singapore.

    That 1953 letter was actually the first step down the slippery slope that led Malaysia to virtually ceding sovereignty to Singapore.

    Things did not stop there. Malaysia’s continued inaction only further undermined our position.

    Simply put, Singapore got Pedra Branca by the flimsiest of evidence. Essentially, it built up a case out of nothing.

    Why should it not? It had nothing to lose.

    And we, on the other hand, failed to assert our claim through any manifestation of effective control.

    That would have meant our moving ahead in areas such as navigation aids, marine conservation, tide and current surveys, hydrography, etc, which we did not.

    That is what sovereignty is all about – developing the means to effectively control what is rightfully ours – and establishing the reality that others who use our territory do so on our terms.

    In other words, sovereignty claims undefended will gradually and eventually disappear. That precisely is what happened to our ownership or original title to Pedra Branca, especially since that letter of 1953.

    Though Singapore deemed the maps published by Malaysia in 1962, 1965, 1975 showed that Pedra Branca belonged to Singapore, the ICJ came to the conclusion the maps were not material in its judgment.

    However, the court inferred that our production of those maps was part of a consistent pattern of behaviour that gave the impression that we were acting in accordance with the spirit of the 1953 letter.

    Singapore tried to convince the ICJ that there was a total rupture in history that changed fundamentally the sovereignty of Pedra Branca, as well as the two other features.

    But it failed to get all that it wanted.

    As Middle Rocks does not have any structure built on it by Britain or Singapore, the original sovereignty remained with Johor/Malaysia. The status of South Ledge is to be determined.

    We should look at things in their proper context.

    Malaysians should give credit to our team for having, in the first place, salvaged the country from a very bad situation. They cannot be held responsible for the 1953 letter nor for acts of omission and commission of our leaders and officials since then. In fact, our team did their best in an extremely difficult situation.

    We have, at least, reconfirmed our sovereignty over Middle Rocks, 0.6 nautical miles south of Pedra Branca. By doing so, we have been able to limit Singapore’s ability to act as it wishes in the vicinity, including engaging in reclamation works.

    We will eventually prove that South Ledge, too, belongs to Malaysia. This feature lies in the territorial waters of Middle Rocks as it is merely 1.7 nautical miles south of this feature. Also, the combined fishing area of Middle Rocks and South Ledge is quite considerable.

    All told, the ICJ judgment went beyond a winner/loser scenario, or even a winner-take-all verdict. It was a midway judgment.

    In the light of the foregoing, to criticise the government for taking the matter to the ICJ without a strong case is also unfair, to say the least.

    There are, of course, risks to be run in bringing the matter before the ICJ. But the question is, was there any other practical alternative? Refusing to let our case be heard at the World Court would have suggested Malaysia lacked confidence in its claim.

    It would have also left Singapore in total de facto control, as they have been since their naval blockade in 1986 over the entire area, on the basis that “occupation is two-thirds of the law”.

    Also, would it have been in the larger interest of Malaysia and Asean – regional peace and security – to allow the previous situation to remain unresolved in perpetuity?

    For some 150 years, Singapore, and before that Britain, had been in effective though illegitimate control of Pedra Branca.

    Malaysia, however, chose not to object when Singapore prevented our fishermen working these waters or seeking shelter on the three features. Here again, this was not because we doubted our sovereignty over them. Rather it was an act of self-restraint and wisdom – something done in the letter and spirit of Asean.

    Foreign affairs is normally a place for extreme caution. It is also, uniquely, an arena where countries speak and act for themselves and, in that process, reveal their true nature by their actions.

    While Malaysia stood on the moral high ground by abiding by the principles of the Asean Treaty of Amity and Co-operation (TAC), Singapore lost credibility. It ignored TAC by taking a hostile stance with its naval blockade of an entire area.

    Under the United Nations Conference on the Law of Sea , Malaysia should negotiate with Singapore starting from the “base point” that Pedra Branca is nothing more than a rock.

    It creates only territorial waters. It has no effect on exclusive economic zones or continental shelf considerations.

    Be that as it may, what is even more important now is that Malaysia should be extremely careful about the way we do things with Singapore. For instance, decisions on the Iskandar Malaysia must be carefully and transparently undertaken.

    We should also resist and even reject outright any attempt to involve other so-called “outstanding issues” in this: water agreements, the points of agreement, the bridge saga and the more recent fast train proposal.

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