Analysts: New Pulau Batu Puteh dispute an attempt to stir nationalist fervour

Pulau Batu Puteh sits at the entrance to the Singapore Strait about 30 km (19 miles) east of the city state and 15 km off peninsular Malaysia's southern coast. — TODAY pic
Pulau Batu Puteh sits at the entrance to the Singapore Strait about 30 km (19 miles) east of the city state and 15 km off peninsular Malaysia's southern coast. — TODAY pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 12 — Political analysts have questioned the timing of Malaysia’s fresh bid to reclaim Pulau Batu Puteh from Singapore, noting that it comes as the country heads into the next general election.

In a report by South China Morning Post (SCMP), the analysts said the bid is a play on nationalist sentiments that resonate with Malay voters, even as ties between the two countries are in a relatively long warm period since the expulsion of the island from Malaysia in 1965.

“Such a stance will likely resonate with the Malay voter base, particularly the more nationalistic segment...” Mustafa Izzuddin, a Southeast Asian politics researcher at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, was quoted saying by the Hong Kong-based daily.

Mustafa said the ruling coalition will likely use the fresh legal fight as a way to show that Barisan Nasional (BN) is “best placed to display strong leadership in the country’s foreign policy so as to safeguard Malaysia’s sovereignty.”

Similarly, Malaysian political analyst Bridget Welsh said in the report the island serves as “a useful tool”, especially since Johor, the southern state where the island is located, is an electoral concern for BN.

The report pointed out that the new challenge came even as both prime ministers of both countries signed an agreement formalising the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail.

However, Oh Ei Sun, a researcher at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told SCMP the timing was a result of Malaysia adhering to the rule of International Court of Justice (ICJ).

According to ICJ, an application to revise a judgment must be made within ten years of the original ruling, and within six months of the discovery of any new facts.

“Any country would of course like to claim whichever territory that it thinks should legally and properly belong to it,” said Oh, a former aide of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

Attorney-General Tan Sri Apandi Ali has also denied that the timing of the bid was politically motivated, insisting that the challenge was filed after new information emerged on the matter in the form of recently declassified British documents.

The documents were released to the public by the United Kingdom government between August last year and last month, according to a previous report by Singaporean daily The Straits Times.

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