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MFA Press Release on the Signing of the Special Agreement

07 Feb 2003

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Prof S Jayakumar and his Malaysian counterpart, Mr Syed Hamid Albar, yesterday signed in Putrajaya, Malaysia, the Special Agreement for Submission to the International Court of Justice of the Dispute Between Malaysia and Singapore Concerning Sovereignty over Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge. A Joint Press Conference was held following the Signing Ceremony which touched on Pedra Branca and other topics. Attached is the unofficial transcript of the Joint Press Conference.

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MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS

SINGAPORE

7 FEBRUARY 2003

UNOFFICIAL TRANSCRIPT

JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE AFTER SIGNING OF SPECIAL AGREEMENT, PUTRAJAYA, MALAYSIA, 6 FEB 03

Minister Syed Hamid: (Opening Remarks) Thank you very much. Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, today’s ceremony marks an agreement between our two parties to refer this dispute on Pulau Batu Puteh, South Ledge and Middle Rocks to a final determination by the International Court of Justice. I think by having signed this agreement, it means that we have to do the next step, which is to have it ratified by both our governments before all the necessary documentation will be submitted to the International Court of Justice after which the International Court of Justice will fix the date for the case to be resolved.

We are happy that finally we have reached this stage and we hope that by this signing our positions and our rights are made very clear, and the dispute is left to the International Court of Justice to decide, one way or the other. So, I would like to hand over to Jayakumar. But before I do that, I will entertain questions from members of the press. But before you ask your question, please identify yourself and then also to whom you are referring your question to, so that we can, either one of us, can answer that. Now, I would like to invite Minister Jayakumar to give his remarks.

Minister Jayakumar: (Opening Remarks) First of all, I wish to thank my friend and colleague, Minister Syed Hamid, for having invited me and for the arrangements made for the signing ceremony. I agree with him that the signing of the Special Agreement is an important event.

It has taken some time. In 1989, Singapore proposed that the dispute be settled by reference to the International Court of Justice. In 1994, Malaysia agreed. In 1998, the officials initialled the Special Agreement, ..the draft. Today we’ve signed it. As Minister Syed Hamid has said, the next step is for ratification. Both Minister Syed Hamid and I have agreed that this should be done expeditiously and thereafter, the process would begin.

I agree with him also that this is an important event in that by doing it signifies that Malaysia and Singapore have agreed to resolve such a dispute through amicable, peaceful method of third party adjudication and that is an important approach, which, I think the significance of which goes beyond Pedra Branca. I think we are signalling to our people and to the world that Malaysia and Singapore could take this kind of approach that we have when we have such disputes. And I hope that this would characterise the way we solve other problems and other disputes. We have an impasse over the water issue. We had talks and have an impasse. The Pedra Branca approach signifies the way to resolving it through international arbitration or arbitration according to the agreements.

I think it is important to note that Malaysia and Singapore have tremendous potential in areas of cooperation. The areas of common interests far outweigh the areas of disagreements and when we have issues of disagreement, we should not allow them to mar the overall relationship. The overall relations should not be held hostage to a single issue. If we cannot resolve single issues, today's event shows a way forward, in accordance with law, international law, agreements and not by other means of actions which are not conventional in international law. Thank you. So I see today’s event as not only in the context of Pedra Branca, but in a broader context. Thank you very much.

Walter Fernandez (CNA): Prof Jayakumar, Walter Fernandez, CNA. This question is directed to Prof Jayakumar. Dr Mahathir has said that your speech in Parliament as well as the release of documents between the two countries was because Singapore was trying to distract its domestic population from economic woes. Could you tell us if this is true and the reasons behind it?

Minister Jayakumar: Well, anyone who knows Singapore well and the Singapore Government, will know that we don’t need distractions for our economic problems and we don’t need scapegoats for whatever problems that we have. You know the Singapore Government does not duck issues. We are upfront with our people on the problems that we have, whether it is economic problems or economic downturn or recession, or whether its security problems such as the arrest of the JI, we are upfront with them, we have set out the facts and we published White Papers, as in the case of the JI and we discussed this fully in Parliament. And there is openness and transparency with the people. Likewise on economic issues, we have the Economic Restructuring Committee (ERC). So we don’t need to have scapegoats or distractions.

And I believe you’ve read the report of Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) in a January survey, where if I may quote, it said that

"The Singapore Government has a long track record of following prudent economic policies. It is more willing than most Asian governments to raise problems like Islamic extremism, productivity shortcomings, and competitive weaknesses for public scrutiny. It is not shy about making policy decisions that it thinks are in the Island’s long-term interests even if it risks a negative reaction from the public in the short term".

So that is the Singapore style of governance. Thank you.

(NST): I’m Firdaus Abdullah from the NST. This is directed to Prof Jayakumar. In what was seen as a departure from diplomatic norms, you published the correspondences between two leaders and it has been described as a lack of faith on Singapore’s part. What do you have to say about this? That is the first question. Second, you’ve signed the Special Agreement today. Could you please tell us are you also going to publish this Special Agreement?

Minister Jayakumar: First let me take the second question first. As to whether we will publish the Special Agreement, we do not know whether Minister Syed Hamid has any problems. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve no problems if the media wants to have the text of the Special Agreement. We have signed it. But I must have the agreement of the Malaysian Minister, Syed Hamid. I have no problems with releasing the text of the Special Agreement. We’ve signed it and it is subject to ratification and after that the process takes off. But I want the views of my colleague….[Minister Syed Hamid: I’ll speak after Prof Jayakumar has spoken.]

On your first question, the answer was spelt out in my Parliamentary Statement, and for those in the media here who have read my Parliamentary Statement, you would know the reason I’ve given and I think it is a pity that my statement and the documents have not been published in the media here. And that would have rendered the question really unnecessary.

In short, the reason for us having to do this was that for several months, we have been at the receiving end of a series of accusations and allegations about our position on the package negotiations on the water issue, on the water talks, which were not true. It was not true that we were unreasonable or the blameworthy party for the impasse. Not only that, other allegations were made that these Water Agreements were colonial impositions fixed by the British when it was not so and I pointed out that the Agreements were concluded when Malaysia was independent and Singapore was self governing. And thirdly, old issues were dug up -over ten years old. So we were subjected to this and we have to set the record straight. And to set the record straight, we had to present conclusive evidence and documents which will speak for themselves.

Now I find it very difficult, and many had told me that they find it difficult, to understand this -- that when these accusations and allegations were made, that is all right, this is not considered bad faith. But when Singapore does no more than to set out the facts and the documents to speak for themselves, that is considered to be bad faith. How is that so? If you can give an answer to that, I think you will be making a contribution to understanding Malaysia-Singapore relations!

Journalist: Sir….

Minister Syed Hamid: Thank you. Before we go into that, let me say that as so far as Malaysia is concerned, the publication of any public documents, we don’t face any problem but subject to whatever procedure that we have to follow. If it is a necessity for it to be published, we have no problems and we will publish it as Minister Jayakumar.. It’s looking for the integrity of the question of publishing no matter what I think Jaya may see it that we’ve always considered in the negotiations that everything that we have should be kept confidential and private. That is the position that Malaysia has taken. In the negotiation also, we believe that the positions will keep on changing whereby publication of letters may lead to a lot of things or the discussions that we have between us. I think the discussions generally between us have been held in the spirit of goodwill and cooperation. And we cannot conduct our case in so far as the relationship between Singapore and Malaysia is concerned, the water issue, through the media, and I think by quoting some media, or quoting letters that do not update some of the decisions which the parties have taken, it makes it difficult for the relationship between Singapore and Malaysia in trying to arrive at a solution like we are doing today in respect of Pedra Branca. I think that’s very good, I welcome that. That state of Pedra Branca should be the way that we should look at things, the way that we should handle things. And I would be, I think, I would not be in vain we were not be vain, or transparent if I say that we have taken the publication of letters as something that is proper and right. If it is indeed, but the only time I remember that letters were published by Singapore in order to support its contention about certain positions taken was in the case of Devan Nair. That was a long time ago. Private letters were published and I think that did not create a good environment or atmosphere. And I think between Malaysia and Singapore, there is a deeper relationship. I agree with Jaya the relationship should look beyond Pedra Branca, beyond our inability to arrive at a solution satisfactory to both parties in respect of price of water.

But I think we’ve come in a spirit of goodwill and cooperation. I do not like to get into a debate with Jayakumar on this, but we’ve got our positions on this. We do not have to find fault with other people when we say that certain things are done in certain ways which is because we believe it is done in a certain way. And the impact and effect of those things to us are important. It is important in the case of Malaysia that we speak our mind, we speak how we look at things and that we hope we would be able to build bridges through greater understanding and sensitivity of each other. And I think that will allow us to move forward.

Minister Jayakumar: I agree with my colleague. I’m a guest in your country, as a guest of Syed Hamid and I do not want to have a sparring match. He is Foreign Minister he has naturally an obligation to articulate and defend Malaysia's interests. I am the Foreign Minister of Singapore. I would have to defend my country’s interests. And the point I would want to make about the letters today that yes, negotiations are negotiations. They may reflect different positions. But the key point is that if we are accused of certain positions which are not true, and the facts are misrepresented, then we will have to set the record straight.

Minister Syed Hamid: That is the mutuality of our representation!

(Bernama): I’m Sarinah from Bernama. I would like to direct this question to Excellency Jayakumar. Now that both Malaysia and Singapore have agreed to refer the issue to International Court of Justice, both parties, essentially Malaysians can go to the island and its surroundings? Will those in the vicinity of Pulau Batu Puteh be chased away? And what is your stand now?

Minister Jayakumar: Our stand now is no different from the stand that has been our position all these years, which is that the status quo is maintained until and unless the International Court of Justice alters that status quo by a decision which binds both countries. And, by that I mean that Singapore has been in ownership, control and sovereignty of Pedra Branca for more than 150 years. That has not changed. So, consistent with that status quo, anyone who wishes to visit or enter the waters may make application. So long as the status quo is recognised, we will consider it.

Minister Syed Hamid: Let me, let me just go through that. For the record, I’ve been very straight as far as Malaysia is concerned, I think what both parties have agreed is that the question of sovereignty should be referred to the International Court of Justice for adjudication. And, in so far as Malaysia is concerned, we’ve always considered...(inaudible) the Government and people of Malaysia have always considered, Pulau Batu Puteh to be part of the territory of the Johor Sultanate and part of Malaysia. That being the situation, there’ll always be interests to exercise our rights over the waters and airspace around Pulau Batu Puteh. And I think this is the thing that both parties need to coordinate and discuss with each other to ensure any untoward incidents will not happen. It is very important that we’ve agreed to resolve this issue through peaceful means through goodwill and cooperation on both sides. And I think the status quo as mentioned by Minister Jayakumar is the status quo in the perspective of Singapore because it claims sovereignty. The status quo as far as Malaysia is concerned, the position is that Malaysia considered it to be part of its sovereign right. And there is a dispute, that is the very reason why we’ve referred the matter to the International Court of Justice. I think as a sign of goodwill and cooperation, it is important we handle it and manage it well so that Singapore and Malaysia will not be…(inaudible)

Minister Jayakumar: I agree with my colleague Syed Hamid that we should handle it well and carefully. But I gave in Parliament an analogy which unfortunately was not carried in the Malaysian media. And I gave this analogy. Imagine for a moment that you own a compound house. You’ve lived in it all your life. Your parents have lived in it all their life. Your grand parents have lived in it all their lives. Then a neighbour says "Hey, this compound house belongs to me." You said, "No," and he said, "Yes." He says, "Well, I’m going to the court." You don’t want to come to blows and you say, "Yes, go to the court." That’s the way to resolve this. But on the next morning, you find him wanting to enter over your fence and he says, "Because there’s a dispute, I have a right to come into your compound." You surely would say, "No, let the court settle it first." So this is one way of illustrating Singapore’s position.

Minister Syed Hamid: OK, let me explain. [laughter] Both sides of the media have some questions. I think this is not a compound house, I think this analogy is rather unfortunate. As much as I would wish to welcome Jaya’s line to explain the thing, look to be even handed I think this is a question where there is a history, there is a sultanate, there are lighthouses being managed, it is not unusual for other people to manage the lighthouses, they are there, it doesn’t mean that once you’re there, you claim that this whole place belongs to you. It is a different situation in fact and so I wish it is not reduced to that simplistic argument that you say in your analogy, but that dispute is over sovereignty. The Malaysians’ standpoint is, I come to an area where Pulau Batu Puteh was part of my historical heritage in that area. That’s why my fishermen go there and they have never been stopped and there are a lot of good fishes there. Very good garoupa fishes. And suddenly when the matter is going to be referred to the court, you say, "Hey look, you are threatening the security of the area, and therefore you cannot go there." I think that’s why I’ve mentioned very clearly that it is important for us to manage this issue. I like the fact that we’ve agreed to refer Pedra Branca to the International Court of Justice. After that, there are a lot of sensitivities and there are a lot of emotions that we have to manage and handle this problem. And just to say that don’t come to my house…(inaudible) Ok, is there any question?

Berita Harian: My question is to Excellency Jayakumar. Minister, I’m Suryanti from Berita Harian. Now that we have, both parties, have signed this agreement, I just to take your word. Would you honour the agreement between both countries? Because we don’t want to hear after the..like the agreement on water which you’ve been questioning Malaysia’s right to a review, so I just want to know would you would Singapore honour the agreement between two countries today?

Minister Jayakumar: Singapore has always honoured its international commitments and agreements. And that’s precisely the point we’ve made about the Water Agreements. That, whatever problems and issues of interpretation there are on the Water Agreements, the right way to go about it is to follow the provisions in the Water Agreements.

And if we cannot resolve them by negotiations and talks, then the right way to do it is through third party arbitration, either the PCA and if that is not acceptable to Malaysia, then follow the arbitration procedure which are in the Water Agreements and which bind both countries.

Our position is, that is the way to do it. Not through unilateral action or actions such as making or enacting a domestic law to render the Water Agreements null and void.

When the Water Agreements have been enshrined not only in the Malaysian Constitution, but also in the Separation Agreement. And the Separation Agreement has guarantees which have to be observed by both Malaysia and Singapore. That case…(inaudible) is the Water Agreement, it’s Singapore’s position…(inaudible) and consistent with that, now that we’ve signed the Special Agreement, it goes without saying that both Malaysia and Singapore by this very act of referring to the International Court of Justice, have agreed to be bound by the decision by the International Court of Justice. And in fact I, wish to remind those here that it was Singapore who suggested in 1989 to refer the matter to the International Court of Justice. Both countries will be bound by the International Court of Justice’s decision.

NTV 7: Is Malaysia going to continue to patrol that area surrounding Pulau Batu Puteh?

Minister Syed Hamid: Before I go to your question, let me say that Malaysia on water first Malaysia has not enacted any law to deny any country and deny Singapore of water. We will continue to supply water... We’ve been supplying water to Singapore since 1927; therefore the question of Malaysia not honouring its obligation I think it is a bit misleading even though we are not happy with the price of 3 sen, which we consider as unreasonable and not reflective of the current situation, there is a dispute, I agree with Jaya, the dispute, there are provisions within that agreement for us to refer to the necessary legal process. I think we’ll leave it at that.

And then the next question that you asked me on Pedra Branca. I’ve mentioned that this agreement refers to our, both parties, willing to bound to refer to the matter to the International Court of Justice. And to be bound to refer the matter to the International Court of Justice means also to be bound by whatever the decision of the court which is final. The decision is not an appealable process. So both parties have agreed to it and I think the second part of it we consider that the Pedra Branca as part of Malaysian territory. Therefore all ensuing activities will be in accordance with what we consider as our sovereign rights.

Minister Jayakumar: Let me say something about the joint patrols, if I may. The dispute arose in 1979, both sides agree on that. Between 1979 and 1994, when we agreed to refer this disagreement to the International Court of Justice, the question of joint patrols never arose. From 1994 till 1998, when the Special Agreement was initialled, the question of joint patrols never arose. And from 1998 till now, the issue of joint patrols has never arose also. I don’t see why it should be an issue now.

Let me add that the proposition is that the status quo is that until the court decides otherwise, the position of Singapore being in effective control, sovereignty and ownership will not change over the rock and over the island. This is the position in international law.

And there are very good reasons why this is the position in international law. Because otherwise, can you imagine the implications for international stability and order if the proposition was: if there’s a dispute, when there’s a claim, one of the disputing parties can enter the territory of the other…aircraft and naval vessels. This will only encourage countries to make claims on other countries’, neighbouring countries’ territories. If it means that for two three years, there can be temporary expansion of territorial jurisdiction. This is not the basis of international law and policy.

Can you imagine if, for some reason, if Singapore were to make a claim over some Malaysian territory, I mean you might say its absurd, but just for a moment imagine that if we were to make a claim and we said we have some documents; ok now there’s a dispute… does it mean pending the settlement of the dispute Singapore Airforce, Navy and so on can enter Malaysia territorial waters and airspace? I think your Government would say no, and the Government would be right.

Minister Syed Hamid: I think before I allow for questions, this is my final attempt to close…(inaudible) but before that, let me say that in the case of Pedra Branca, this question is not as straightforward as what Jaya has put it. I don’t like to go into the legal argument. In this particular case, it has always been considered as part of our territory, it is not a question of somebody claiming after a while this is my territory. Therefore you want to come in. So I think there is a lot of goodwill and cooperation that needs to be exercised in this particular case. I think for Malaysia, it is a question of Singapore having managed our lighthouses in other places, that Singapore having identified that the lighthouses, the territory of that lighthouses do not belong to them, all these things are arguments that Malaysia has always claimed that it’s only for the management for the lighthouses. That’s why we’ve left it to Singapore. Because Singapore was part of the territories under the same colonial master. Then after independence, we didn’t bother. So it is not unusual for Singapore even today to manage Pulau Batu Puteh, Pulau Pisang lighthouse. So it is not as put it, we would not have referred the matter to the International Court of Justice, unless we feel very strongly there are legal argument in accordance with international law that it was the right to say that this is part of our sovereign territory. So I think that that is important. And so as I say today, we have decided to refer the matter to the International Court of Justice.

It was a good move forward for both countries. Let us look at how we can build on other dimensions and other aspects. Let the International Court of Justice decide and if there is a necessity for us and we’ve done so previously. I don’t think this is not an intentional act of aggression or physical intention, it is an act of our sovereign interests on a territory that we’ve always considered as part of ours. The fact that I do not look at my house does not give the occupier the total right to the house. The fact that I don’t visit my house it doesn’t mean that the occupier whom I asked to look after it, in this particular case, the property, to claim this property, since you’ve left it for so long, that let us have the matter determined by the International Court of Justice.

Because I can get into a lot of lengthy arguments with Jaya for every point he has to say, I have the counter legal arguments. But this is not good. This is not the forum. I think we’ve come in a true spirit of neighbours in trying to find a solution. We’ve tried to negotiate, we’ve tried to talk, and I think started from 1980, with Singapore starting a process, they protests, and then we’ve put Pulau Batu Puteh in the map, in the old map which showed Pulau Batu Puteh, the lighthouse,…all these things are matters that both parties are saying, no it is ours, one other party says, and the other party says look it is ours. So let us, don’t put ourselves, and I would like end this in the spirit of goodwill and cooperation that we’ve decided to refer the matter to the International Court of Justice. And I think let it rest there. Thank you very much.

(Reuters): Given the recent fighting in Cambodia against Thailand, and Malaysia is at odds with Singapore now, can you tell us what is the impact of this development? Aren’t you all worried that all these regional divisions within ASEAN ….scare away investors?

Minister Syed Hamid: Let me before Jaya answers that the fact that we are able to come to the signing, notwithstanding a lot of media coverage on both sides of the causeway, a lot allegations and counter allegations that have been made, it shows that we look at our interlink interest in the long term. Over the short term, we have our differences but over the long term, it is necessary for Singapore and Malaysia to work together for the interest of its people.

Minister Jayakumar: I would echo what Minister Syed Hamid has said: focus on the positives. I’ve made that point in my opening remarks that the areas for cooperation and mutual benefit far outweigh the areas of disagreement. And in the area of cooperation, of mutual cooperation, economic cooperation, we are important to each other in terms of investments and trade. Tourism… we’ll open a tourism office in KL, I think in May. In the area of security and terrorism, our agencies are closely cooperating. We were very pleased that the Inspector General of Police has accepted one of our highest honours. This symbolised the close police to police cooperation.

And also we cooperate in ASEAN. And since you mentioned ASEAN, I think one of the good things about ASEAN is that even though two countries may have bilateral hiccups, it has never deterred the ten of us meeting together for ASEAN projects and ASEAN cooperation. And we have never let our bilateral hiccups as they may arise impede ASEAN cooperation. Of course it is good that ASEAN countries have minimum bilateral problems so as not to give the wrong impression to people outside ASEAN but I think ASEAN is strong enough to withstand bilateral problems. Countries have had their bilateral problems in the past 35 years or so, ASEAN is still there and I believe is strong enough to withstand. Thank you very much.

The press conference ended at 1220 hours.

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