S'pore ready to defend sovereignty over Pedra Branca, will deal with 'whatever' legal action from M'sia: MFA

Not budging.

Kayla Wong | October 14, 2022, 10:26 PM

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Singapore stands ready to "robustly defend" its sovereignty over the island of Pedra Branca, and will deal with "whatever legal action" Malaysia may pursue, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a press release issued on Friday evening, Oct. 14.

Malaysia wants to pursue legal action

MFA made these comments following Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri's announcement on Oct. 13 saying that the country will be proceeding with legal action at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over its claim to Pedra Branca.

In a statement, Ismail Sabri attributed "possible negligence and mistakes" by former PM Mahathir Mohamad that resulted in Malaysia missing the "opportunity" to file a review application against the 2008 ICJ judgment, which ruled that Singapore has sovereignty over Pedra Branca.

Malaysia can no longer challenge ruling

In May 2018, Malaysia, under the Pakatan Harapan administration led by Mahathir, withdrew its bid to challenge the 2008 ICJ ruling.

Mahathir said at the time that Malaysia is "doing some rethinking about that" -- Mahathir was later dragged by nationalistic social media users when he defended his decision in June 2022.

Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said then that Singapore is confident of their case, as well as the "correctness" of the ICJ decision, adding that the country is "happy to agree" when Malaysia requested to discontinue the cases.

As the 10-year deadline for a review application was over, Malaysia is no longer able to file another challenge.

MFA also pointed out that both Singapore and Malaysia publicly announced that they will accept and abide by ICJ's decision, which is final.

Malaysian election coming

Ismail Sabri has dissolved the Malaysian parliament on Oct. 10, paving the way for the country to hold its 15th general election within 60 days at a date that's yet to be announced by the Election  Commission.

The decision to hold an early election was said to be partly due to infighting within the ruling coalition.

Ismail Sabri had maintained that he called the election to return the mandate the Malaysian people and to restore political stability.

What's going on with Pedra Branca?

Pedra Branca is an island that consists of a small outcrop of granite rocks with an area of about 8,560 square metres.

It is located at the eastern entrance of the Straits of Singapore, about 24 nautical miles east of the country.

The name is Portuguese for "White Rock", and the white colouration of the rocks comes from bird droppings.

Malaysia thought that it had sovereign rights over the island and brought the matter to the ICJ in 2003. The island was then ruled in Singapore's favour in 2008.

However, the island made headlines again on Feb. 2, 2017, when Malaysia filed an application with the ICJ to review the judgement, citing new evidence that have been discovered to support their claim.

The move was criticised as drumming up nationalist fervour before the election due to its timing before the 2018 general election.

Singapore also submitted its own "comprehensive and compelling rebuttal", saying that they are confident of their case.

Top image via MFA