S'pore & M'sia discuss implementation of ICJ's judgement on Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks & South Ledge

Both countries "remain committed to resolving maritime boundary issues."

Faris Alfiq | November 25, 2021, 05:45 PM

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The Singaporean and Malaysian Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Vivian Balakrishnan and Saifuddin Abdullah, released a joint press statement on the Ninth Malaysia-Singapore Joint Technical Committee (MSJTC).

The MSJTC met virtually on Nov. 23 to continue the discussion on the implementation of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) judgement on Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge.

The Malaysian delegation was led by the secretary-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Muhammad Shahrul Ikram Yaakob while Singapore's delegation was led by Chee Wee Kiong, Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Both countries committed to resolving maritime boundary issues

According to the joint statement, the meeting continued discussions on related issues arising from the ICJ Judgement on the case concerning sovereignty over Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge.

It stated that the meeting endorsed the Terms of Reference (TOR) for the Sub-Committee on Maritime Boundary Delimitation of Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge.

The joint statement also mentioned that the Meeting agreed that the Sub-Committee will continue its work in accordance with the TOR.

"Malaysia and Singapore remain committed to resolving maritime boundary issues between the two countries," the joint statement added.

Malaysia will host the tenth MSJTC Meeting in 2022.

Background on Pedra Branca

The dispute on Pedra Branca arose in 1979 when Malaysia published a map claiming the island as hers.

Malaysia claimed that the island first belonged to the Sultanate of Johor. The British (and then Singapore) were merely granted permission to operate the Horsburgh Lighthouse on the island.

Subsequently, when Johor joined the Federation of Malaysia, the ownership of Pedra Branca went to Malaysia - that is, according to Malaysia.

Singapore, on the other hand, claimed that Pedra Branca was no man's land when the British took over it.

The British, and subsequently Singapore, maintained a continuous and effective display of state authority over the island from the 1850s - such as building piers, military assets, investigating shipwrecks within Pedra Branca's territorial waters and granting or not granting permission to Malaysian officials to survey the waters surrounding the island.

Singapore also produced a 1953 letter from a top Malaysian civil servant indicating that "Johore does not claim ownership of Pedra Branca".

The matter was finally brought up to the ICJ in 2003. In 2008, the ICJ ruled that Pedra Branca belongs to Singapore.

Malaysia filed another application

On Feb. 2, 2017, Malaysia filed another application with the ICJ to review the judgement because of "new evidence" that purportedly supports their claim.

The "evidence" comes in the form of three declassified documents released by the United Kingdom's National Archives:

1. Internal correspondence of the Singapore colonial authorities in 1958.

2. Incident report filed in 1958 by a British naval officer.

3. Annotated map of naval operations from the 1960s.

These documents were discovered in the British National Archives between Aug. 4 2016, and Jan. 30 2017.

According to Malaysia, the ICJ would have been bound to issue a different judgement in 2008 if they had been aware of these documents.

Malaysia withdrew its application

However, on May 30 the following year, Malaysia withdrew its application to review ICJ's ruling on Pedra Branca.

Malaysia's former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamed, said Malaysia was "rethinking" the application filed the year before.

In response to the withdrawal, Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan said Singapore was "happy to agree" when Malaysia requested to discontinue the cases.

Malaysia's withdrawal meant that they are ceding their right to revise ICJ's 2008 decision in awarding Pedra Branca to Singapore.

According to ICJ rules, an application for the revision of a ruling must be made within six months of the discovery of new evidence, and within 10 years from the date of judgement.

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Top image via Wikipedia