Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad said that Malaysia should claim that Singapore, Pedra Branca, and the Riau Islands in Indonesia be returned to it.
He made these comments at a June 19 event entitled “Aku Melayu: Survival Bermula (I am Malay: Survival Begins), The Straits Times reported.
Mahathir on ICJ decisions
"A rock the size of a table"
In his speech, given in Malay, Mahathir did state that there is "no demand" to be made of Singapore.
"However, there is no demand whatsoever of Singapore. Instead we show our appreciation to the leadership of this new country called Singapore," Mahathir said.
Mahathir drew a comparison between the Pedra Branca case and another International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling that ended up in Malaysia's favour.
He noted that the ICJ had ruled in 2002 that Malaysia held sovereignty over the Sipadan and Ligitan islands, off the coast of Borneo, instead of Indonesia.
He claimed that the Malaysian government deemed this more valuable than Pedra Branca, which the ICJ ruled that it belonged to Singapore in 2008.
Mahathir referred to Pedra Branca as a a piece of rock “the size of a table”.
This is not the first time Mahathir has made dismissive comments about the size of Pedra Branca, and talked up the comparison to the Sipadan and Ligitan Islands instead.
He made the same argument as recently as June 11, when he was addressing the Oxford Union.
Application to revise ICJ decision was dropped during Mahathir's second prime ministership
Malaysia applied to the ICJ to revise their Pedra Branca judgment in 2017, but the issue was dropped in May 2018, during Mahathir's second tenure as prime minister.
In a statement at the time, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said:
"We were confident of our case, and the correctness of the original ICJ decision.
When Malaysia requested to discontinue the cases, without them being argued, we were happy to agree.
Both Malaysia and Singapore had gone through the due legal process and put this matter to rest."
Mahathir mentioned "the return" of Singapore and the Riau Islands
But he then went on to say “We should demand not just that Pedra Branca, or Pulau Batu Puteh, be given back to us, we should demand Singapore as well as the Riau Islands, as they are Malay land.”
Applause from the audience interrupted him when he mentioned the return of Singapore, and he made a brief pause.
He also claimed that Malay land, used to encompass the area from the Isthmus of Kra in Southern Thailand, to the Riau Islands in Indonesia, as well as Singapore, but was now “confined to the Malay Peninsula”.
He then mused on the future, saying that he “wondered whether the Malay Peninsula will belong to someone else in the future”.
Mahathir claimed that Malays in Malaysia "remained poor" and tended to sell their land, “Malaysia today is not owned by bumiputera”.
You can see his speech below:
No stranger to controversy
Mahathir is known for his controversial comments, especially when it comes to Singapore.
He has often spoken out on his perceived unfairness of water agreements made with Singapore in the past, and has previously referred to Singapore as “once belonging to the Malay state”, as he did in this 2021 Facebook post.
However, in the same sentence, he also said that Singapore is today a "foreign country".
Mahathir's remarks came after Sultan of Johor's remarks on Pedra Branca
On June 16, the Sultan of Johor Ibrahim Iskandar said that the Malaysian federal government failed to consult Johor before withdrawing the Pedra Branca review application from the ICJ in 2018
Sultan Ibrahim said Putrajaya had a “lackadaisical attitude” towards Johor’s sovereignty, and used the Pedra Branca issue as an example.
The Sultan claimed that this represented "a clear breach of Johor’s rights as enshrined in the Federation Agreement."
The Sultan's statement went on to say that if any of the terms related to Johor’s rights under the Federation of Malaya Agreement signed in 1948 and 1957 were breached, the state had the "right to secede".
Mahathir has had a notable history of clashes with the royal family of Johor over the course of his long career.
Top image via Astro Awani/YouTube