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MFA Press Release: Singapore's Reply to Utusan Malaysia on Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid's Letter

19 Feb 2003

The Singapore High Commission in Kuala Lumpur had on 18 February 2003 sent a reply to Utusan Malaysia on Foreign Minister Syed Hamid's letter. The reply has not been published.

Attached is the text of the reply to Utusan Malaysia. For easy reference, a copy of Syed Hamid's letter published in Mingguan Malaysia (with unofficial translation) is attached.

MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
SINGAPORE
19 FEBRUARY 2003

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18 February 2003

The Editor
Utusan Malaysia

The letter by Foreign Minister Syed Hamid published in Mingguan Malaysia on 16 February 2003 contained several errors. First, it was Malaysia, not Singapore, who raised the idea of a Joint Press Conference. This was conveyed by Wisma Putra to the Singapore High Commission on 28 January 2003 when both countries were working out the arrangements for the signing ceremony of the Special Agreement.

As for the order in which "Pedra Branca" or "Pulau Batu Puteh" should appear in the backdrop, it was Malaysia which had initially demanded to re-order the title of the backdrop to read "Pulau Batu Puteh/Pedra Branca". We pointed out that Malaysia's proposal was at odds with the formulation used in the draft Special Agreement that both sides had agreed to in 1998 after long and very careful deliberations. Moreover, as Minister Syed Hamid himself has pointed out, the title of the backdrop would have no legal impact on the case at the International Court of Justice.

The practice of initialling each page of the Special Agreement is neither a new nor a sinister arrangement. It is not unusual in international practice. In fact, the draft Special Agreement which both sides had agreed to in 1998, had every page initialled by both sides.

Please publish my letter in full in your paper.

Adrian Tan
First Secretary
Singapore High Commission in Kuala Lumpur

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UNOFFICIAL TRANSLATION

MINGGUAN MALAYSIA (16 FEB 2003)
Letter by Syed Hamid Albar, Malaysia's Foreign Minister

SYED HAMID REPLIES TO AWANG SELAMAT

I have been following the Awang Selamat column for some time because it is a column in a leading newspaper in our country. I have also had the opportunity to pick up some good advice from the wise comments of the writer.

I read the Awang Selamat column of 9 Feb 2003 on the war of words between myself and the Singapore Foreign Minister.

I wish to make some clarifications on the comments made by Awang Selamat.

Perhaps Awang Selamat was not informed of the programme of the on Signing Ceremony on the Special Agreement on Pulau Batu Putih on 6
February.

There was not supposed to be a press conference, going by the schedule. After the signing ceremony, there was only to be a lunch, as pointed out by Awang Selamat.

I opined that an open press conference would generate many problems. I had readied a press statement for circulation to the journalists in attendance.

However, Singapore asked for a joint press conference. Twenty-five journalists from the republic accompanied their foreign minister.

For the information of Awang Selamat, during my meeting with the Singapore Foreign Minister and his delegation in my room before the signing of the agreement, I had said that I did not want a press conference in order to maintain the atmosphere of cordiality.

In keeping with my hopes that the function not be spoilt by opposing statements and differences of opinion I gave a short speech.

In my speech, I stressed how happy I was that we have succeeded in holding the function in the spirit of goodwill and cooperation.
I said I was particularly happy because the two parties had agreed to refer to their dispute to the ICJ, so let us allow the ICJ to arbitrate on the matter.

I regard the speech as very friendly, considering the atmosphere surrounding bilateral relations before the signing of the agreement.

However, as the public now knows, the Singapore Foreign Minister made a lengthy reply. I kept silent and waited for him to finish his speech.

When it was question and answer time for the media, the Singapore media asked their foreign minister what appeared to be a pre-planned question on PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad's statement that Singapore had tried to shift attention from its internal economic difficulties by raising tensions with Malaysia.

The Singapore Foreign Minister had evidently had prepared the answer beforehand, judging by the fact that he read from a prepared text.

I thought that the contents were too critical of Malaysia and Dr Mahathir and tried to put the blame for the strained ties between Malaysia and Singapore squarely on Malaysia.

That was also what I thought when he later defended his revelation of the correspondence between the leaders of the two countries on the ground that he wanted to put the record straight on matters raised by Malaysia.

As it involves the dignity and respect of our country, I felt compelled to point out the truth. Ethically, correspondence between leaders should be kept secret because they are part of the negotiation process.

The situation turned sour when the Singapore Foreign Minister touched on the sovereignty of Pulau Batu Putih, saying it belonged to Singapore until it is decided by the ICJ.

Therefore, as Malaysia has always maintained that Batu Putih is Malaysian territory, the suggestion made by the Singapore Foreign Minister on Pulau Batu Putih was excessive in the light of the conflicting claims by the two countries.

Singapore should not have taken that attitude because the question of sovereignty is the reason why we agreed to bring the matter to the ICJ.

Had I kept quiet on that matter it would have meant that Malaysia agreed that as long as the sovereignty issue was not resolved, sovereignty over Batu Putih remain vested with Singapore.

I wish to apologise here that I cannot agree with Awang Selamat. I wish to inform Awang Selamat that every time any side touches on the questions of the dignity, rights and sovereignty of our country, it is my responsibility as the foreign minister to defend Malaysia's position firmly and without the slightest ambiguity.

Had Awang Selamat attended the press conference, he would certainly have realised that the situation had become what it was because of the actions of the Singapore Foreign Minister.

I had tried to avoid saying anything that could create a controversy. However, Singapore had a different attitude.

Let me state that Singapore is so particular that when we wanted to put up the 'backdrop', Singapore insisted that it should start with 'Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Putih' instead of 'Pulau Batu Putih/Pedra Branca'.

Singapore is aware that no matter how the words to describe the disputed island are arranged, it will not have any legal impact whatsoever.

Singapore's lack of faith in the process was shown when the Singapore Foreign Minister asked that every page of the Special Agreement be initialled before it was signed on the last page of the document, as is the usual practice.

For Awang Selamat's information, I only responded to the comments made by the Singapore Foreign Minister on Dr. Mahathir's statement clarifying Malaysia's stand on the public release of the correspondence and his emphasis that only the ICJ process could decide the question of sovereignty over Batu Putih once and for all. I cannot allow the country and its leaders to be run down at a meeting held in our own country.

I hope Awang Selamat will now be aware of this. Nonetheless, I thank Awang Selamat for giving his comments in an objective manner. I will always learn from those who are wise.