Update: Malaysia has withdrawn their bid at ICJ, however, there is no mention that extension works of the Middle Rocks would be discontinued.
Speaking at a press conference after a Cabinet meeting, Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad announced that the Malaysia government is considering to build a “small island” by constructing an extension in between the Middle Rocks. The small island is expected to be located just south of Pedra Branca, an outpost located some 30km away from Singapore island, which falls under Singapore’s sovereignty.
The Malaysia PM also said that he is reconsidering the government’s earlier challenge to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over the sovereignty of Pedra Branca:
“Malaysia will reconsider the challenge to the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) judgment on Pedra Branca. They (the ICJ) awarded Middle Rocks to us and on Middle Rocks we have already built structures,” he said. “It is our intention to enlarge middle rocks so that we can form a small island for us. No final decision has been made yet and the government was still mulling over the issues.”
Below is a timeline over the Pedra Branca issue between Singapore and Malaysia:
2008 – ICJ awarded Singapore sovereignty over Pedra Branca, while Malaysia got South Ledge and the Middle Rocks
June 2017 – Malaysia filed a new hearing at the ICJ after it found new evidence supporting Malaysia’s claim over Pedra Branca
Aug 2017 – Malaysia parked a navy ship at the Middle Rocks
Sep 2017 – Singapore conducted a military exercise comprising of the navy and police at Pedra Branca to “flex it’s power” to Malaysia
The Singapore government has assembled a legal team comprising of Attorney-General Lucien Wong, former Law Minister S Jayakumar, former diplomat Tommy Koh and former Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong.
In the new and upcoming dispute, Malaysia asked for the ICJ to explicitly clarify that the territorial rights to the water surrounding Pedra Branca belong to Malaysia. Depending on the judgement, Singapore may not be allowed to expand the land mass of Pedra Branca, or conduct oil exploration in the region.
Pedra Branca is particularly strategic as it sits on the seams of the lucrative oil route in Singapore Straits. If either Malaysia or Singapore possess sovereignty to all three island clusters – Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge, a new sea port can be constructed rivalling Singapore’s.
ICJ deliberately broke up the sovereignty of the three island clusters to create an impasse, which is to Singapore’s advantage.