Mahathir Says His Remarks About Returning S’pore to M’sia Was Reported Out of Context

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On Thursday (23 June), Dr Mahathir Mohamad clarified that his statement about Johor reclaiming Singapore and Riau islands was taken out of context as the media outlets failed to show that he was mocking the idea.

In his public statement, he explained, “I am not asking Malaysia to claim the land that we had lost. I am trying to point out that we are so concerned over losing a table-sized rock, Pulau Batu Puteh or Pedra Branca, but never about bigger parts of Malaysia when they were taken from us.”

He adds that losing that “table-sized rock” isn’t the main concern, but it was the Johor government’s mistake to deny that the rock actually belonged to Johor.

(In essence, the saltiness he felt over losing the land to Singapore still lingers, but he has given up trying to contest the issue.)

He claims that if the Johor government never made the denial, they wouldn’t even be having a dispute about it.

For context, neither Singapore nor Malaysia could decide who it should belong to for decades, each laying their own claim over the rock formation.

In the end, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) stepped in, concluding that Pedra Branca belonged to Singapore, while Pulau Ligitan and Sipadan were awarded to Malaysia in 2008.

Dr Mahathir believes that they should be “grateful for their gains” as the latter two pieces of land are much more valuable than Pedra Branca.

The whole point of his speech was to mock the priorities that the Malaysian government had, of focusing on something that can viewed as insignificant, and the old decisions made, rather than disputing who owned what.

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Wrong Media Reports and Consequent Responses

Apparently, most media outlets had construed Dr Mahathir’s speech in a provocative light, wherein Malaysia shouldn’t just stop at claiming Pedra Branca, but also Singapore and the Riau islands as they were once part of the country.

Following the initial media reports, Indonesia responded on Wednesday, stating that there was no legal basis for the claim that Riau Islands belonged to Malaysia.

The Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah was quoted in the newsfeed Tempo, saying that the 1,8000 islands that made up the Riau Islands province belonged to Indonesia under international law.

Mr Teuku even went as far as saying, “In a time when the world is facing many challenges, a senior politician should not be making baseless statements that can harm friendships.”

That might possibly be the politest way of telling Dr Mahathir to retire for good, whilst reminding the 96-year-old man that his words will have an impact on Malaysia’s international standing by virtue of his political influence and position as former Prime Minister.

Likewise for Singapore, local media outlets had bristled at the idea of Malaysia laying claim over Pedra Branca and Singapore once more, even citing the tumultuous history of riots and disagreements which eventually led to Singapore’s separation from Malaysia and its declaration of independence in 1965.

Having said that, it’s good that Dr Mahathir clarified his statements, because he had ruffled quite a few feathers in Singapore and Indonesia.


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Featured Image: Malay Mail

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