Mahathir calls disputed waters off Tuas ‘international waters’ in debate with S’pore Oxford student

Going toe-to-toe with the Malaysian Prime Minister.

Jonathan Lim | January 19, 07:42 pm


Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was at Oxford University on Jan. 18 to speak at the Oxford Union.

The Oxford Union is the university’s debating society and one of its oldest societies as it was formed in 1823.

It was a talk that saw Mahathir having to defend Malaysia’s record on democracy, the Bumiputera policy, his treatment of Anwar Ibrahim, and his recent barring of Israeli athletes from taking part in the World Para Swimming Championships to be held in Sarawak in July.

Debate with Singaporean student

Darrion Mohan is a student studying at Oxford who uploaded a portion of his debate with Mahathir.

The video starts off with him asking Mahathir whether the recent visit by Johor Chief Minister Osman Sapian to a Malaysian vessel in disputed waters off Tuas would contribute to the perception that Malaysia’s government is “pugnacious” and “acts in bad faith”.

Darrion also quoted Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Najib Razak who said that the Malaysian government wanted to “return to the days of confrontational diplomacy and barbed rhetoric”.

Mahathir then deflects the question by asking whether Darrion was a Malaysian.

Darrion reiterated his question to get Mahathir to answer it.

Mahathir deflects again and talked about the Singapore-Malaysia water dispute.

The exchange carries on for another three minutes about the pricing of raw untreated water sold to Singapore and how Malaysia did not take its chance to revise water prices when it could have.

Vivian Balakrishnan: S’pore honours 1962 water agreement, M’sia should too

Maritime dispute

The debate then switched to the recent intrusion of Malaysian vessels into Singapore waters.

Darrion asked Mahathir, in the context of the Johor chief minister unilaterally entering Singapore’s waters, what measures would be taken to prevent similar incidents.

Mahathir explained that the chief minister thought it was Johor waters and “that’s why he went there”.

The reaction to that visit was “quite severe, as if we’re going to war”, said Mahathir.

He did not elaborate on what this reaction was, though, or where it came from.

He then called the area in which the chief minister visited “neutral waters”.

Darrion responded by saying that he wanted to pass on the microphone to someone else to ask questions, but he clarified that the waters were not neutral and were Singapore’s according to a 1979 map that Malaysia had tabled.

It is here that Mahathir said “it is not Singapore water either, it is international water”.

In his Facebook post clarifying several points that he and Mahathir made, Darrion added that Mahathir’s “concession” that the disputed territory between Singapore and Malaysia was international waters “significantly undermines” Malaysia’s claims.

Here’s what he said:

“Finally, during our exchange, Dr M repeatedly referred to the disputed waters off Tuas as “international waters”. This contradicts previous statements from both Dr M [1] as well as the Malaysian Transport Minister [2], who stated that the disputed waters within the new Johor port limits are Malaysia’s territorial waters. Dr M’s concession that these are in fact international waters significantly undermines Malaysia’s initial claim.”

Here’s Darrion’s video of the exchange:

Everything you need to know about the Singapore-Johor port limits dispute since 1979

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About Jonathan Lim

Jon is thankful that Singapore is interesting enough to keep a website like Mothership.sg up and running.

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