Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen Responded to Dr Mahathir’s Remarks That M’sia Should Reclaim S’pore

The Singapore media needs to move on from whatever Dr Mahathir said two weeks ago.

Singapore’s sovereignty isn’t under threat, jeez.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen’s Response

During the hour-long interview at the Ministry of Defence’s (MINDEF) headquarters in recognition of the 55th anniversary of National Service, one of the questions that was directed towards Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen was regarding Dr Mahathir’s comment about Malaysia reclaiming Singapore and Riau Islands as “Malay land”.

Mr Ng replied by saying that he isn’t certain if he even needs to respond to Dr Mahathir’s remark since he wasn’t talking to Singapore directly.

The Defence Minister acknowledges that Dr Mahathir is a well-known politician, respects him as a elder, and knows that he’s had dealing with the previous Prime Ministers of Singapore.

However, Mr Ng believes that there’s no need to react to every statement that Dr Mahathir makes.

“If you want to jump up and down each time Dr Mahathir speaks, then you will be like a jumping bean.”

He goes on to point out that Dr Mahathir is speaking for a different audience and that those words weren’t meant for Singapore, so it’s best to just take them at “face value”.

Who’s The Other Audience?

While the Defence Minister is brief is his answer, it’s succinct and strikes at the heart of the misconceptions that both the Singaporean and Malaysian media has leapt into.

First off, he made this speech at an event hosted under the banner of Congress for Malay Survival, and it was titled “I am Malay: Survival Begins”.

It should be noted that when he made the speech, it didn’t cause many ripples in Malaysia at all, since the Malaysians were used to such quips from their 96-year-old ex-prime minister.

Issues only started cropping up when the regional media and organisations picked up on it and freaked out.

From the standpoint of Malaysians, they recognised that Dr Mahathir was being sarcastic and making a verbal swipe at the Johor Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar, whom the politician had been in a thorny relationship with for the longest of times.

Just for a callback, Dr Mahathir said this: “We should demand not just the Pedra Branca, or Pulau Batu Puteh, be given back to us, we should also demand Singapore as well as Riau Islands, as they are Malay lands.”

Maybe the entire invasion on Ukraine by Russia has put everyone on their tenterhooks, especially regarding the integrity of their sovereign territory, but it’s important to understand the context behind the sentence first before jumping to conclusions.

What Dr Mahathir meant to say—and also later clarified in a public statement—is that he finds it ridiculous that Malaysia is so concerned about losing Pedra Branca, which is akin to a table-sized rock, but never about the bigger parts of Malaysia that were taken away from them.

In essence, the priorities of the Sultan and government appear to be quite skewed.

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To lend further credence to the fact that it was a side swipe to disparage the Johor Sultan, Dr Mahathir also said, “It was the mistake of the Johor government to deny the rock belongs to Johor. Had that denial not been made, there would be no dispute now.”

His remark came after Sultan Ibrahim stated that the federal government’s decision to drop its claim on Pedra Branca at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) impinged on Johor’s sovereignty.

The Sultan also told the public that they should be informed about the real reason why the government chose to drop the claim.

Dr Mahathir was basically mocking the Johor Sultan and the past government for the mistake they made.

Since the bad blood between Dr Mahathir and Sultan Ibrahim is common knowledge to Malaysians, it’s natural that they didn’t react to the two talking smack at each other, and they just moved on with their lives.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen is right to say that we shouldn’t be overly sensitive to every remark made by Dr Mahathir.

Moreover, it’s important to consider that while Dr Mahathir is a respected figure, he’s slowly losing power and influence, not just because of his old age.

In the current geopolitical climate, Dr Mahathir has been blamed for current political instability in the country as his successor Muhyiddin Yassin barely managed to hold onto the reins for 17 months before he was pushed away.  Additionally,  the old economic policies he made during his long tenure as premier are also showing its long-term effects.

It was not the best reap, let’s just say. 

His ratings are not at an all-time high; or at the very least, it’s no longer powerful enough that he can ensure that his own party can rule by majority in the Malaysian government.

Therefore, does his words hold any weight, and does what he say really matter? 

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Featured Image: YouTube (CNA)