Last week, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) announced that it would hold public hearings in June related to Malaysia’s new challenge of its previous ruling on a decades-long island dispute with Singapore over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh. The announcement marks just the latest development following the recent revival of the dispute that continues to loom over the broader bilateral ties.
As I have noted before in these pages, Malaysia and Singapore have had a rather prickly relationship in the past, and despite some significant improvements in ties over the past few years, problems still tend to arise in ties from time to time in part due to domestic politics (See: “Malaysia-Singapore Relations in the Spotlight with 2017 Leaders’ Retreat”).
Pedra Branca is a case in point. Though the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled back in May 2008 that Singapore had sovereignty over it after a decades-long row, Malaysia filed a new application to the ICJ in February 2016 to revise the judgment citing new evidence from documents discovered in British archives, with a separate application for interpretation filed in June 2017. In doing so, Malaysia effectively revived the decades-long dispute and complicated a historically rocky bilateral relationship.
Malaysia Reveals New Maritime Base Near Disputed Island With Singapore
Malaysia Deploys First Warship to New Naval Base Near Disputed Island
Malaysia drops their pursuit to possess Pedra Branca, but they’re planning bigger things for Middle Rocks
After scrapping the high-speed rail project between S'pore & Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s newly elected prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has decided to drop their pursuit to possess Pedra Branca
Magnanimous as the move may be, the Malaysian prime minister has a surprise up his sleeve. In a press conference, Tun Dr. Mahathir revealed plans to literally expand their own jurisdiction with Middle Rocks, located about 1km south of Pedra Branch.
“It is our intention to enlarge Middle Rocks so we can form a small island for us,” Mahathir told reporters, without giving further details.
As reported in Bernama last year, Malaysia has already set up a maritime installation on Middle Rocks, complete with a jetty, a helipad, and a lighthouse. The structure was built to conduct marine scientific research, and of course, reaffirm Malaysia’s “absolute sovereignty” over Middle Rocks.
Malaysia’s plans for Middle Rocks could set back bilateral ties: Experts
Malaysia has constructed a maritime base on Middle Rocks comprising a jetty linking the two main outcrops, a lighthouse and a helipad. The base lies close to Singapore's Pedra Branca, which can be seen at the bottom of this foto
The Malaysian government’s plan to expand Middle Rocks into an island is an attempt to burnish its nationalist credentials & assert its sovereignty over the rocky outcrop following its withdrawal of a challenge on an international court ruling on Pedra Branca, say observers.
But they added that while the move appears within Malaysia’s legal rights, carrying it out could have a negative impact on ties with Singapore.
“I see it more as seeking to re-assert Malaysian sovereignty despite dropping for good the claim to Pedra Branca,” said Associate Professor Eugene Tan, a law professor at Singapore Management University, echoing the views of several experts on the announcement, made by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Wednesday.
Malaysia inaugurates new maritime base near disputed island with Singapore
Malaysia's Abu Bakar Maritime Base, which was inaugurated on 1 August 2017. In the background is Singapore's Pedra Branca, which Malaysia believes is part of its territory. (Screenshot from Sultan of Johor's official Facebook page)
The Malaysian government has inaugurated a new maritime base approximately 500 m southeast of Pedra Branca, an outlying island under the jurisdiction of Singapore that Kuala Lumpur believes is part of its territory.
The installation – which has been constructed across two uninhabited features at the eastern opening of the Singapore Strait known as Middle Rocks – was inaugurated by the Sultan of Johor, Ibrahim Ismail bin Iskandar, on 1 August. Accompanying the sultan at the inauguration was chief of the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN), Admiral Ahmad Kamarulzaman bin Ahmad Badaruddin.
The maritime base's construction was initiated as a national security project that seeks to secure Malaysia's territorial waters, according to a video statement from the Sultan of Johor's office. Facilities on the installation, which Malaysia refers to as the Abu Bakar Maritime Base, include a 316 m jetty, a lighthouse, and a helicopter landing pad.
Malaysia opens maritime base near Pedra Branca
The maritime base on the Middle Rocks was built at a cost of RM61.5 million (S$19.5 million), and has a 316m-long jetty, a helipad and a lighthouse. Singapore's Pedra Branca can be seen in the background. FOTO: FACEBOOK PAGE OF SULTAN OF JOHOR
Malaysia has signalled its keen sovereign interest by completing a maritime base just a kilometre away from Pedra Branca, & hopes to tighten its sea borders in the area where frequent trespasses by Vietnamese fishing boats have hurt the livelihoods of Malaysian fishermen, officials & analysts say.
The Sultan of Johor officially opened the maritime base on the Middle Rocks on Tuesday, after some 5 years of construction at a cost of RM61.5 million (S$19.5 million). The rocky outcrop was awarded to Malaysia in 2008 by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which handed Pedra Branca to Singapore at the same time.
Analysts note that the Abu Bakar Maritime Base should be welcomed as a positive development in maritime security.
Malaysian navy ship berths at Middle Rocks
The KD Perdana berthing on Thursday at Malaysia's new maritime base on Middle Rocks. The base was built after 5 years at a cost of RM61.5 million (S$19.5 million). FOTO: TWITTER.COM/MYKAMARUL
A Malaysian navy ship berthed for the first time at the country's newest maritime base off Johor on Thursday, 10 days after the Sultan of Johor opened the base on the Middle Rocks outcrop.
"Our vessel - KD Perdana - is the first Royal Malaysian Navy ship to berth at the Abu Bakar maritime base in Middle Rocks," Malaysia's navy chief, Admiral Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin, told The Straits Times yesterday.
"Although it is not being permanently positioned there, it will still frequent the base & carry out patrols in the area with other vessels to ensure maritime security," he said over the phone.
Horsburgh Lighthouse and Abu Bakar Maritime Base
Horsburgh Lighthouse on Pedra Branca Island of Singapore and Abu Bakar Maritime Base owned by Malaysia in the Singapore Strait.
Abu Bakar Maritime Base Malaysia
This is a navy base with lighthouse and helipad and dock for warships in the strategic contested location of Middle Rocks Singapore Strait.
MAHATHIR PLANS MALAYSIAN ISLAND ON MIDDLE ROCKS NEAR SINGAPORE
Move follows decision by Malaysia’s new leader to drop opposition to an International Court of Justice ruling that awarded another outcrop, Pedra Branca, to the Lion City – Singapore says it’s “happy to agree”
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s latest set of sweeping policy reforms announced on Wednesday has put neighbouring Singapore in the spotlight, as the recently elected leader confirmed the cancellation of a highly anticipated high-speed rail project between the two countries and revealed a surprise plan to build an island near the city state’s territorial waters.
Mahathir told a press conference of plans to “enlarge” Middle Rocks, a rocky outcrop in the Singapore Strait that was awarded to his country in 2008 following a legal suit over Pedra Branca, a nearby island in the strategic waterway.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in that same ruling awarded to Singapore Pedra Branca – referred to in Malaysia as Pulau Batu Puteh (White Stone island).
Malaysia plans to build island on strategic Singapore Strait rocks
Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad meets with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Perdana Leadership Foundation in Putrajaya, Malaysia on May 19, 2018 in this handout photo. Singapore's Ministry of Communication and Information/Handout via REUTERS
Malaysia's prime minister said on Wednesday his government planned to develop some offshore rocks which were the subject of a territorial dispute with Singapore, days after he cancelled a big rail project with his southern neighbour.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) awarded the outcrop, known as Middle Rocks, near the opening of the Straits of Singapore, to Malaysia in 2008. At the same time, the Netherlands-based court ruled the nearby Pedra Branca island belonged to Singapore.
Malaysia sought a review of that ruling last year, in the hope of restaking its claim to Pedra Branca. Singapore opposed Malaysia's bid to review the ruling and the Singapore foreign ministry said on Wednesday the ICJ had informed it Malaysia had withdrawn that request.
Malaysia withdraws Pedra Branca case; Singapore 'happy to agree', says Vivian Balakrishnan
Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Malaysia had informed the International Court of Justice that it would stop the proceedings that it had initiated earlier. FOTO: ST FILE
Malaysia has withdrawn its applications to revise & to interpret a 2008 judgment by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that awarded sovereignty of Pedra Branca to Singapore.
In a statement on Wednesday (May 30), Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Malaysia had informed the ICJ on Monday (May 28) that it would stop the proceedings that it had initiated earlier. In response, on Tuesday, Singapore told the ICJ that it agreed with Malaysia's request for discontinuance.
Prior to that, Malaysia's Solicitor General had written to inform Singapore's Attorney-General of Malaysia's intention, & Singapore replied to convey its agreement, MFA said.
Malaysia drops challenge to ICJ ruling on Pedra Branca
S'pore is "happy to agree" with Malaysia's request to discontinue the cases it filed in 2017 with the International Court of Justice
Malaysia has discontinued proceedings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) relating to the court's 2008 judgment, which awarded sovereignty of Pedra Branca to Singapore.
In a press statement on Wednesday (May 30), Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said it had been informed by the ICJ of Malaysia's decision to drop two cases to revise & to interpret the judgment.
The statement came shortly after new Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told a media conference that his government would “reconsider” the previous administration's challenge to the Pedra Branca ruling.
Republic of Singapore Navy 8 hours ago
The RSN and the Singapore Police Force (SPF) conducted a routine joint contingency response exercise on Pedra Branca in August, following months of planning and preparation.
As part of the exercise, personnel from the RSN and the SPF successfully intercepted and took down a simulated armed civilian intruder. This is testament to the operational readiness of our security forces.
The RSN and the SPF conduct regular exercises to ensure that our contingency plans for the defence of Pedra Branca against any threats or intrusions are well practised. We also maintain a 24/7 watch to guard against any intrusions.
Singapore’s navy, police hold joint exercise on Pedra Branca
As part of the exercise, RSN & SPF personnel successfully intercepted & took down a simulated armed civilian intruder - a “testament to the operational readiness of our security forces”, the RSN said in a Facebook post on Friday (Sep 29). Foto: Facebook screencap via Mindef
A routine contingency response exercise, involving the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) & the Singapore Police Force (SPF), was held on Pedra Branca in August.
As part of the exercise, RSN & SPF personnel successfully intercepted and took down a simulated armed civilian intruder — a “testament to the operational readiness of our security forces”, the RSN said in a Facebook post on Friday (Sep 29).
“The RSN & the SPF conduct regular exercises to ensure that their contingency plans for the defence of Pedra Branca against any threats or intrusions are well practised. We also maintain a 24/7 watch to guard against any intrusions,” it added.
Singapore navy, police conduct joint exercise on Pedra Branca
As part of the exercise, personnel took down a simulated armed civilian intruder. (Foto: Republic of Singapore Navy)
The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) & the Singapore Police Force conducted a joint exercise on Pedra Branca last month.
In a Facebook post on Friday (Sep 29), the RSN said that the routine joint contingency response exercise had followed "months of planning and preparation".
As part of the exercise, personnel from the RSN & the police intercepted and took down a simulated armed civilian intruder.
Singapore navy and police conduct a joint exercise on Pedra Branca
The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) & the Singapore Police Force conducted a joint operation on Pedra Branca in August.
In a Facebook post on Friday, Sep 29, the RSN said that the routine joint exercise was regulated after "months of planning and preparation".
A personnel from the RSN & the police confronted an armed intruder as a part of their routine exercise.
Malaysia throwing 'the kitchen sink’ with second Pedra Branca challenge, say experts
Malaysia’s 2nd attempt to contest Singapore’s sovereignty over Pedra Branca within the space of 4 months points to a bid to “do what they can” against a backdrop of domestic political factors, said experts on international law, politics and history.
On Jun 30, Malaysia filed an application to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) requesting interpretation of a 2008 judgment which awarded sovereignty of Pedra Branca to Singapore, nearby islet Middle Rocks to Malaysia and the South Ledge outcrop to “the state in whose territorial waters it is located”.
Malaysia’s new application claims South Ledge, along with the waters surrounding Pedra Branca, as located within its territorial waters.
EIU: Very unlikely Pedra Branca will go to Malaysia
The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) said the dispute over the Pedra Branca islet, which is relatively distant (around 40 km) from Singapore and closer to the Malaysian coast, will not go Malaysia’s way.
It said: It seems unlikely that the ICJ will reverse its determination that Pedra Branca, the location of a colonial-era lighthouse set up by the then-Singaporean authorities, is within Singapore.
However, Malaysia may be able to demonstrate that most of the adjacent sea area is within Malaysian waters. This despite some grey areas upon which Malaysia is struggling to prove it has rights over the rocky parcel.
Singapore says it's 'without merit'
THE HAGUE: Malaysia on Friday (Jun 30) filed an application requesting interpretation of the judgment delivered by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2008 over the sovereignty of Pedra Branca, in a move Singapore has called "puzzling".
This is “separate & autonomous” from an application in February seeking revision of the ICJ judgment, Malaysia said. On May 23, 2008, the ICJ ruled that Singapore had sovereignty over Pedra Branca, while Middle Rocks was awarded to Malaysia. South Ledge belonged to the state in whose territorial waters it is located, the ICJ found.
On Feb 2, Malaysia applied to revise the judgment, claiming to have found “a new fact” unearthed from 3 documents discovered in the National Archives of the United Kingdom between Aug 4, 2016 and Jan 30, 2017. In a press release issued on Friday, the ICJ said Malaysia had invoked Article 60 of the Statute of the Court as its basis for a request for interpretation. The article states that “in the event of a dispute as to the meaning or scope of the judgment, the Court shall construe it upon the request of any party”.
Malaysia's fresh challenge on Pedra Branca 'without merit': MFA
Malaysia has filed an application at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to declare that the waters surrounding Pedra Branca are within its territorial waters.
In response, Singapore says the move is puzzling, without merit, & one it will oppose.
The bid, filed on Friday, calls on the court to clarify its 2008 judgment which awarded Pedra Branca to Singapore, & neighbouring Middle Rocks to Malaysia.
Malaysia asks ICJ to rule on waters around Pedra Branca
Singapore files rebuttal to Malaysia's application on Pedra Branca
ICJ ruling on Pedra Branca dispute
S’pore to oppose KL’s latest bid on Batu Puteh
Singapore will oppose Malaysia’s application for interpretation of the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) 2008 Judgment in the case concerning sovereignty over Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge.
In a statement yesterday, the Singaporean Foreign Affairs Ministry noted that Malaysia’s application for interpretation filed on Friday was additional to, and separate from, its Feb 2, 2017 application for revision of the ICJ’s judgment.
“In our view, the ICJ judgment is clear and unambiguous. Malaysia’s request for the ICJ to interpret the judgment is puzzling. “Singapore will therefore oppose Malaysia’s application for interpretation, which we consider to be both unnecessary and without merit,” said the ministry.
Malaysia asks International Court of Justice to rule on waters around Pedra Branca; Singapore to oppose application
Malaysia has filed an application before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to declare that the waters surrounding Pedra Branca remain within its territorial waters - a move Singapore said was puzzling, without merit, & one it will oppose.
On Friday (Jun 30), Malaysia applied for an interpretation of the Court's 2008 judgment which had awarded Pedra Branca to Singapore. In its bid, Malaysia also asked the court to declare that a nearby feature, South Ledge, is located in Malaysia's territorial waters & therefore belongs to it.
Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement on Saturday (Jul 1): "In our view, the ICJ Judgment is clear & unambiguous. Malaysia's request for the ICJ to interpret the Judgment is puzzling. Singapore will therefore oppose Malaysia's application for interpretation, which we consider to be both unnecessary & without merit."
Malaysia files new application on Pedra Branca as Singapore celebrates NS50 and SAF Day
So, it appears that the Malaysians have made a new application to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Yesterday, they requested the ICJ for an interpretation of the judgement delivered by ICJ in 2008.
In 2008, the ICJ ruled that Singapore had sovereignty over Pedra Branca, while Middle Rocks was awarded to Malaysia. South Ledge belonged to the state in whose territorial waters it is located.
In its new application, Malaysia has indicated that “the parties have been unable to agree on the meaning and/or scope” of the following two points of the 2008 judgment:
- that “sovereignty over Pedra Branca belongs to Singapore’
- that ‘sovereignty over South Ledge belongs to the State in the territorial waters of which it is located’”.
When Rocks are not Just Rocks … Four points
Whenever Pedra Branca (or White Rocks in Portuguese) is mentioned, two things come to mind: a small island of rocks, no larger than a football field, so named because it’s white from being covered in bird droppings; and a territorial dispute between neighbouring frenemies Malaysia and Singapore:
- How long has Singapore and Malaysia been fighting over these ‘White Rocks’?
- ICJ is the judicial branch of the United Nations (UN). And indeed, the UN court ruled in 2008 that the isle belongs to Singapore.
- What ‘new evidence’ is Malaysia referring to? Sure or not? Or just chut pattern?
- If the case is not strong, then why go and waste time to bring to court again?
Malaysia challenge Singapore's sovereignty over Pedra Branca
S'pore confident of defending Pedra Branca despite Malaysia's latest challenge
Quick thoughts on Malaysia's renewed challenge over Pedra Branca
5 things you should know about Pedra Branca now that it’s back in the news
No idea what that is? No fear, we’re here to bring you up to speed so that you’ll have something to discuss with your colleagues at the water cooler come Monday.
- Why is it white?
- Danger Zone
- He said, she said
- So why is Pedra Branca appearing in my newsfeed again?
- What next?
ICJ’s Press Release
Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs comments
Malaysia’s Attorney General Chamber’s Press Release
Malaysia files for revision of ICJ’s Pulau Batu Puteh decision
The tiny island of Pedra Branca, where S'pore administers a lighthouse, sits at the entrance to the S'pore Strait about 30 km (19 miles) east of the city state & 15 km off peninsular Malaysia's southern coast on Jan 6, 2003. Photo: Reuters
S'pore strongly believes the documents filed by Malaysia to challenge the 2008 decision by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that ruled Pedra Branca to be S'porean territory does not satisfy a legal clause under the court’s statute.
Speaking during the Committee of Supply Debate in Parliament on Thursday, Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan said the Republic’s legal team has studied Malaysia’s application carefully, including the 3 documents relied by Putrajaya to support its application.
“Our legal team strongly believes that the documents relied on by Malaysia do not satisfy the criteria under Article 61,” he said in response to questions by Members of Parliament Amrin Amin & Baey Yam Keng on the case.
Malaysia files new application to ICJ on Pedra Branca ruling
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Mega reclamation project off Johor
Malaysia files for revision of ICJ’s Pulau Batu Puteh decision