Call on both the Singapore and Malaysian governments to stop their petty games and to sign the agreement to refer the Pulau Batu Puteh dispute to the International Court of Justice within a week

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Monday): DAP calls on the Singapore and Malaysian governments to stop their petty games and to sign the agreement to refer the Pulau Batu Puteh dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) within a week.

As both governments have agreed to refer the dispute to the ICJ, it defies common sense, reason and logic that its actual reference should be so mired in one-upmanship and brinkmanship and involve such elaborate and complicated choreography to get to the stage of securing bilateral agreement as to the date and venue to sign such a reference between two nations who are members of ASEAN and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

At the rate things ago, it would not be far-fetched or outrageous if it is suggested that before the two governments sign the agreement to refer the Pulau Batu Puteh dispute to the ICJ, both parties should first sign a preliminary agreement as to when and where such a final agreement is to be concluded - giving more room for both governments to quarrel and quibble at every turn!

In an era of information technology where information travels at the speed of light, between two countries both of which have ambitions to be at the cutting edge of IT revolution and which are less than an hour's flight from each other, it is just "shame, shame, shame" for both governments to continue with the childish but dangerous game of one-upmanship and brinkmanship to sign the agreement to refer the dispute to ICJ.

It was most ridiculous for the Singapore Government to suggest that the agreement be signed in Brussels on the sidelines of the Asean-European Union Meeting on Jan 27 and 28, but it is equally ridiculous for the Malaysian Government to counter suggest that the agreement could be signed on the sidelines of the NAM Summit in Kuala Lumpur from February 20 - 25.

Yet both governments maintain with a straight face that they are prepared to sign the agreement anytime, anywhere but continue to be unable to agree as to exactly where and when it should be signed!

It is time that the people of the two countries tell their governments to stop all play-acting and grand-standing and get the agreement signed within a week, either in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, or at Pulau Batu Puteh itself at the Horsburgh Lighthouse - as there is no reason why the two governments could not end the unseemly fracas over where and when to sign the reference of the dispute to the ICJ with dispatch before both governments become even greater laughing stocks to the world.l

The two governments seem to be capable of quarrelling or quibbling over anything - even in the tragic collision of the Singapore Navy anti-submarine patrol ship RSS Courageous with a container ship 100 times its weight just 1.5 km north of Pulau Batu Puteh close to midnight on Friday, killing four women naval specialists in weapons and communication systems aged 22 to 25.

Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar said the collision could have been avoided and suggested that sea patrols off Pulau Batu Puteh waters should be carried out by both Malaysian and Singapore authorities to help prevent any accident at sea in future.

This was immediately rejected by the Singapore authorities who said that it was "premature for us to prejudge the cause of the incident" and claimed that the worst marine accident with the largest loss of life for the Singapore Navy happened in Singapore territorial waters.

Such endless carping, back-biting, quibbling and quarrelling between the two governments reflect most adversely not only on the two governments, but even more so on the two Foreign Ministers concerned, Syed Hamid and S. Jayakumar, and they should rein in the hotheads from both countries to refrain from such unproductive and even dangerous pursuits.

The RSS Courageous accident could well be the direct result and casualty of the escalation of the "play-acting" and "grand-standing" between the two governments over Pulau Batu Puteh - with the Singapore navy patrol deployed to patrol the island.

Two theories of the collision have been advanced in the Singapore media:

  • That the RSS Courageous was probably in a stationary position, without dropping anchors, and floating 1.5 km out at sea, facing Pulau Batu Puteh, as its mission was "to look out for intruders to the island". The Dutch-registered container vessel ANL Indonesia, on the other hand, would be cutting through the waves at a manoeuvring speed of about 16 knots, which is expected of vessels coming out of the narrow waters in the area, and passing by the island as it sails northwards towards the South China Sea. Doing so, it may not have seen the 55-metre-long patrol craft because of its size or too late to avoid a collision.

  • That both vessels were moving at almost right angles to each other, with human error causing one vessel not to have given way to the other in time.

Whatever the actual cause of the collision, the question is whether RSS Courageous was specially deployed to patrol Pulau Batu Puteh because of the flare-up in the war of words as well as war talk over the island in the past two weeks.

If so, then the four women navy specialists who perished in the collision would be the first casualties of the one-upmanship, brinkmanship, play-acting and grand-standing of the two governments and it is imperative that both government come to their senses to ensure that the four do not die in vain, that no more deaths whether to Singaporeans or Malaysians are caused by unnecessarily strained relations between the two neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia, starting with the signing of the agreement to refer to the dispute over Pulau Batu Puteh to ICJ within a week. 


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman