Malaysia, Singapore finally get down to maritime border negotiations

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysia’s Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad smile during a joint news conference in Putrajaya April 9, 2019. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim
Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysia’s Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad smile during a joint news conference in Putrajaya April 9, 2019. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim

PUTRAJAYA, April 9 — After decades of ambiguity, Malaysia and Singapore today announced the start of negotiations to delimit their maritime borders.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said a new committee will be formed within a month, following Malaysia’s mutual agreement with Singapore to reverse their port limits to the 2018 lines yesterday.

“As the saying goes, good fences make good neighbours,” Dr Mahathir said in a joint news conference with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong after their 9th bilateral Leaders’ Retreat here.

“Ultimately, Malaysia believes it is important to delimit all outstanding maritime boundaries between Malaysia and Singapore, and not only to delimit the area surrounding the port limits. It should be for the whole boundary,” Dr Mahathir added.

In a separate joint statement, the two leaders said the committee will be chaired by the secretaries-general of both countries’ foreign ministries.

Both also said they looked forward to the 8th Meeting of the Malaysia-Singapore Joint Technical Committee on the Implementation of the International Court of Justice Judgment on Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge to resolve outstanding bilateral maritime boundary delimitation issues in the area.

They also welcomed the determination of the actual location of the points of the international boundary pursuant to the Agreement between the Government of Malaysia and the Government of the Republic of Singapore to Delimit Precisely the Territorial Waters Boundary in Accordance with the Straits Settlements and Johore Territorial Waters Agreement 1927 signed on August 7, 1995.

The return to the 2018 limits yesterday means both countries agree to temporarily suspend all commercial activities in the area including fishing, refrain from anchoring government vessels in the area, and agree to operate in the area in accordance with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The dispute between Malaysia and Singapore over the limits of Johor Baru’s port limits off Tanjung Piai and the port limits off Tuas has been a long-standing issue dating as far back as 1979.

Matters came to a head on October 25 last year when the Attorney General’s Chambers published a document through the Federal Government Gazette that displayed Tanjung Piai’s limits with a significant eastward extension.

In response on December 6, Singapore extended Tuas’ limits. Its transport minister said the island republic will not hesitate to take “firm action” to protect its territory and sovereignty.

Both countries also deployed naval vessels to the disputed waters, with Singapore sending at least one armed littoral mission vessel to stake its claim.