I AM not exactly clear why the unity government has to set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on the sovereignty of the islands of Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and Southern Ledge, off the coast of Johor.
I thought the sovereignty of the three islands were settled when the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in May 2008 decided to recognise Batu Puteh as belonging to Singapore, Middle Rocks to Malaysia and the Southern Ledge to the territorial waters of the country in which it was situated.
Under the administration of Datuk Seri Najib Razak, there was an attempt to appeal the decision of the ICJ in 2017. I understand that this was a hastily prepared application ostensibly based on fresh evidence.
But unfortunately, the appeal was withdrawn on the grounds of lacking merit when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad succeeded Najib in 2018. Moreover, the cost of the appeal would have been financially burdensome.
Subsequently, given the Johor ruler’s unhappiness over the sovereignty question of Batu Puteh and the adjacent islands, a task force was set up to re-examine the sovereignty of these islands.
However, given the difficulty of retracting information pertaining to the sovereignty, the task force has been abandoned. In place, the Madani government has agreed for a RCI on the islands.
I am not sure about the terms of the reference of the RCI whose members are still to be named by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (YDPA). Perhaps the formation of the RCI is still at the initial stage to read too much into it.
The RCI might be a better framework to examine the events that led to Malaysia’s loss of sovereignty over Batu Puteh. The RCI could also explain the nature of the appeal and what were the new sources of information that constituted the basis of the appeal.
In retrospect, one wonders why the Mahathir government withdrew the appeal and what were the reasons given to state that the appeal would not stand a chance in the ICJ.
I don’t think that the RCI is meant for Malaysia to re-assert its sovereignty over Batu Puteh. I believe that a diplomatic and bilateral approach should be pursued for the eventual reassertion of sovereignty.
The decision made by the ICJ in 2008 was final. Even the appeal made in 2017 was somewhat late given the decision was made in 2008.
What will be interesting to know is whether the RCI will look into the following areas. Firstly, why in the first place Malaysia lost its sovereignty over Batu Puteh and why Singapore emerged the winner.
Secondly, what was the nature of the appeal in 2017 and the grounds for this. Thirdly, was Dr Mahathir right in withdrawing the appeal. Shouldn’t he have left the decision to the ICJ? Was this an example of naivety or arrogance of power or both?
Fourthly, why was the task force formed and abandoned? Was it formed with the intention to shift the blame on the former attorney-general (AG) Tan Sri Tommy Thomas and the former PM Dr Mahathir as to why Malaysia lost its sovereignty over the island?
Fifthly, the RCI as a mechanism to gather information on Malaysia’s quest for sovereignty is fine but whether it could overturn the decision of the ICJ might be a non-starter. It is not that Malaysia should bid good-bye to its claim over the sovereignty of Batu Puteh as other channels should be used to pursue the long-term goal of sovereignty.
I am all for RCI on Batu Puteh if such an effort lays the foundation of an eventual diplomatic settlement of sovereignty in favour of Malaysia. – Jan 26, 2024
Former DAP stalwart and Penang chief minister II Prof Ramasamy Palanisamy is chairman of the Urimai (United Rights of Malaysian Party) interim council.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.
Main pic credit: Mohd Hazmi Mohd Rusli, PhD