Pedra Branca: Experts doubt if Malaysia's new case will hold water

'It's all very weak evidence which doesn't seem substantial'

Will Malaysia's new evidence over Pedra Branca overturn ICJ verdict favouring Singapore?
The tiny island of Pedra Branca, where Singapore administers a lighthouse, sits at the entrance to the Singapore Strait about 30 km (19 miles) east of the city state Reuters

Malaysia may have raked up the territory dispute over the Pedra Branca island to cash in on election sentiments, experts have said. The decades-old territory dispute, which was settled in 2008 as per a verdict by the International Court o Justice, was brought up again recently by the Malaysian side. Kuala Lumpur submitted what it described as new evidence to the ICJ, adding that it's looking forward to a fresh review o the case.

"During Malaysia's 2013 elections, Pedra Branca was brought up by the opposition to show that the UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) government was weak," said Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, a fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS)-Yusof Ishak Institute, according to the Channel News Asia.

"Perhaps this time round, UMNO will make use of this to show the Malaysian public that Najib's leadership is strong in foreign policy and can safeguard the sovereignty of Malaysia. The timing does suggest it could be in the minds of policymakers in UMNO that it could be used as a way of garnering votes," he added.

Malaysia, while submitting fresh evidence, said it did not want to appeal against the ICJ verdict but was trying to draw the court's attention to the new set o evidence available.

Hong Kong's South China Morning Post reported that the new evidence dates back to the 1950s when Singapore was under colonial rule. The main elements of the dossier are a letter from the Singapore colonial administration in 1958, a map of the city from 1966 and reports about a naval incident in 1958.

Malaysia argues that the ICJ verdict in favour of Singapore was based chiefly on a 1953 letter from the colonial administrating in Johor that stated that it had no claim over Pedra Branca island. In the latest move Kuala Lumpur says Singapore's governor had written a letter in 1958 saying the city did not consider the island was part of its territory. It argues that this is fresh evidence that warrants a re-look into the case.

However, some experts do not believe this will help them present a viable case before the ICJ. "Having the Johor government saying in black and white it had no sovereignty over the island is much stronger than these documents," he said. "None of these new documents unequivocally says Pedra Branca is part of Johor ... It's all very weak evidence which doesn't seem substantial," said Associate Professor Kevin Blackburn, a historian at the National Institute of Education (NIE), according to CNA.

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said last week the government was closely following Kula Lumpur's move to seek a revision of ICJ judgment on sovereignty over Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge.