S’pore ‘Stands Ready to Robustly Defend Sovereignty Over Pedra Branca’ After M’sia Suddenly Wants to Pursue Legal Action


Singapore is a city of not just one island, but 64.

Sentosa, Tekong, Ubin, Lazarus… It’s tough to remember all of them, but for the sake of this article, you’ll only have to be familiar with one.

Remember Pedra Branca?

Pedra Branca, not just any island

For those that aren’t familiar with the island or the dispute surrounding it, let’s get you up to speed.

Pedra Branca is an outlying island situated at the eastern entrance of the Singapore Strait, about 24 nautical miles (44km) east of Singapore.

To the south of Pedra Branca are two maritime features – Middle Rocks and South Ledge.

“Ok, so Pedra Branca is just like any other island right? It’s like Saint John’s, but much smaller, right?”

No, Pedra Branca is much more than that.

When Singapore was still under colonial rule in the 1800s, the British colonial government took possession of Pedra Branca to build Horsburgh Lighthouse and other structures. Since then, Singapore has exercised continuous sovereignty over the island and its adjacent waters.

This was until 1979, when Malaysia published a map detailing their national and maritime boundaries. The map included Pedra Branca and its vicinity – and Singapore was not going to have that.

As a result, the two nations took the territorial dispute to the ICJ and in 2008, the court awarded sovereignty over Pedra Branca to Singapore.

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Middle Rocks was awarded to Malaysia, and sovereignty over South Ledge belongs to the state in the territorial waters of which it is located.

After the 2008 ICJ decision, both nations publicly announced that they would accept and abide by the court’s decision, which was final.

Yet, in an unexpected turn of events in 2017, Malaysia instituted an application for revision and a request for interpretation of the ICJ’s 2008 decision.

Eventually however, both actions were subsequently withdrawn by Malaysia in 2018.

M’sia to continue legal action on sovereignty over Pedra Branca

13 years after the 2008 ICJ decision, Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob had made a statement saying that Malaysia’s Cabinet had agreed to proceed with legal action at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the issue of sovereignty over Pedra Branca.


This statement comes just a few days after the Malaysian Prime Minister dissolved Parliament, triggering snap elections.

If you’re confused about what exactly snap elections are, or wondering why Malaysia is even having its elections now, watch this video to find out more:

Back to Pedra Branca – the Malaysian statement said that there may have been possible negligence on the part of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad when his government decided against proceeding with a review of the ICJ decision in 2018. This was according to a special task force Malaysia had convened on the matter.

And before you dismiss the statement as nothing but hot air, the task force will let you know that it is serious about Pedra Branca – it recommended that Malaysia take appropriate action to defend its sovereignty.

Singapore’s response

A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said Singapore had noted Malaysia’s press statement.


Our response?

“Singapore stands ready to robustly defend our sovereignty over Pedra Branca and will deal with whatever legal action Malaysia may pursue”.

That is, if Malaysia even has any cause of action.

Under the ICJ’s statute, an application for revision cannot be made after the expiry of 10 years from the date of the ICJ’s 2008 judgment, that is May 2018. What Malaysia intends to do and how the situation will unfold remains to be seen.

The spokesman for MFA noted that “Singapore is unable to comment on Malaysia’s latest intentions since no details have been shared”.

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