S'pore Oxford student who questioned Mahathir says he wasn't too 'aggressive'

He said it was 'interesting' to hear from Mahathir himself.

Kayla Wong | January 22, 2019, 06:20 PM

The Singapore Oxford student whose exchange with Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad attracted regional attention has defended himself against critics who said he was too "confrontational".

The video of the exchange between 22-year-old Darrion Mohan and the Malaysian leader, uploaded by the student on Jan. 19, has racked up more than 5,800 shares on Facebook.

According to a report by The Straits Times (ST), in response to the criticisms from some netizens that his tone with the Malaysian leader was too "aggressive", Mohan said the Oxford Union -- where the exchange took place -- was "fundamentally a debating society".

The second-year history and politics student said:

"When leaders speak at the Union, there has always been a strong tradition of them being confronted with tough questions and challenged robustly."

The report also mentioned that the Raffles Institution alumni did an internship at Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2017, and that he did sufficiently well in his first year at Oxford to receive a partial academic scholarship from the university.

"Interesting" to hear from Mahathir himself

In the exchange, Mohan first brought up the incident where Johor Chief Minister Osman Sapian visited the Malaysian vessel (MV Pedoman) anchored in disputed waters on Jan. 9.

He asked Mahathir if the visit would contribute to the perception that the Malaysian government is "pugnacious" and "acts in bad faith", and if it wanted to "return to the days of confrontational diplomacy and barbed rhetoric".

It was later revealed that Malaysia's Foreign Ministry (Wisma Putra) had not approved of Osman's visit, and that they had repeatedly contacted him to ask him to call off his visit to the vessel.

Mahathir then deflected Mohan's question, asking him if he was Malaysian, and also bringing up the water price issue between the two countries.

Later in the exchange, Mahathir referred to the area as "neutral waters", which was a point in the exchange Mohan felt was the most noteworthy.

In Mohan's Facebook post, he said that Mahathir's "concession" that the disputed maritime area between Singapore and Malaysia is international waters "significantly undermines" Malaysia's claims that those are its waters.

Mohan also told ST he thought it would be "interesting" to hear from Mahathir himself on the ongoing bilateral maritime dispute, adding that a "back-and-forth exchange" like the one he had with Mahathir is "rare".

Top image via Darrion Mohan's Facebook page