Singapore-Malaysia Maritime Dispute Turns “Volatile” Over Johor Bahru Port

“We don’t want to fight with Singapore,” says Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad. He said sometimes there are overlapping claims which can be resolved through negotiations. Dr Mahathir made these comments in regards to the ongoing maritime dispute with Singapore.

Maritime dispute between Singapore and Malaysia began on October 25, 2018, when Malaysia declared a change to the limits of the Johor Bahru Port. Singapore claimed that the Malaysian government vessels encroached into their territorial waters off Tuas.

The Malaysian government has undertaken to take all effective measures to de-escalate the situation on the ground and handle the situation in a calm and peaceful manner.

According to Channel News Asia, Malaysia has proposed a meeting with Singapore in mid-December to discuss the maritime boundary issues between the two countries. While Singapore has welcomed the meeting, it has rejected the cease-and-desist proposal.

The dispute accelerated in the first week of December following a phone call between the two countries foreign ministers. As per South China Morning Post, Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in a statement said he had urged his counterpart Saifuddin Abdullah to see the‘urgent need’ to cease intrusion in the city state’s waters in order to ‘avoid escalating tensions on the ground’.

On the other hand, Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke countered Singapore’s claim that his country had violated the Lion City’s sovereignty by unilaterally altering boundaries around a port in the southern state of Johor.

“Loke claimed Singapore’s position was wrong because it had judged its maritime boundary based on ‘basepoints’ on reclaimed land. It is trite law that land reclamation does not extend a state’s basepoints or baselines.” He maintained that the altered port limits of Johor Bahru are in Malaysia’s territorial sea and it is well within Malaysia’s right to draw any port limit in our territorial sea in accordance with our national laws.

Meanwhile, Singapore disputed this statement. It pointed out that the new Johor Bahru port limits extended beyond Kuala Lumpur’s territorial sea claim set out in the 1979 Malaysian map. The Singapore government further stated that Malaysia’s actions had hurt bilateral ties and the republic would not hesitate to safeguard its sovereignty.

The Malaysian minister added that actions by Singapore amount to serious violations of Malaysia’s sovereignty and international law and are unconducive to good bilateral relations. Now, both countries are expected to meet to resolve the issue.

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