I’ve reading of all that territorial fuss over what Malaysians call Pulau Batu Puteh and what Singaporeans refer to as Pedra Branca. It is the name for the same island, people, in case I’ve confused you already.
Though why Singapore, with its Chinese majority (therefore Mandarin-literate) and predominantly English-speaking population, would claim sovereignty over an island and insist on calling it Pedra Branca (which means White Rock in Portuguese), is beyond me.
BTW, someone told me that the national language of Singapore is still Malay, though no one there likes to publicise the fact. However, many of the public signboards come in four languages, which says a lot about the nation-building efforts of the city-state’s founding fathers.
Singapore was until 1963, part of the Malaysia. I guess when it secceded from Malaysia, the grand old man of Singapore, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, wasn’t paying too much attention to details like this rocky outcrop to the east of the island republic.
Did some googling and reading. The first I heard of the Batu Puteh dispute was 4 years ago, during Malaysia’s ICJ bout with Indonesia regarding sovereignty over the Sipadan and Ligitan islands (located east of the Sabah-Kalimantan border). Carolyn Hong (who later also crossed the Selat over to Lion City) wrote this report in 2003.
Attention of our lawyers then turned to another location under dispute. Ye old Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh. We won one island, YAAAY!!! Now let’s move on to another fight.
Anyway, each party has its own reasoning to back up its claim on this tiny island that has been described as the size of a football field. Singapore runs the Horsburgh Lighthouse on this tiny outcrop of an island and its navy has been quite touch in recent years when any boats come near.
This is despite the fact that the island is some 64kms away from its easternmost part of Singapore island. Pulau Batu Puteh/Pedra Branca lies 12.8 kms from Teluk Ramunia in Johor. Check pic below, courtesy of Malaysiakini archives.
A strategic point, from the military angle?
Malaysia’s Navy is certainly antsy about the Singapore Navy’s armed guarding of this island. Any neighbour would be nervous and suspicious especially considering the island nation’s military expansion and ambitions.
What else could be Singapore’s reason for claiming this barren outcrop that has just bird dung and a lighthouse? Maybe Singapore’s Navy would not want to tell me. Land scarcity in Singapore however is hardly an unknown fact.
For years now, the ongoing reclamation works at Pulau Tekong is subsuming the little islets surrounding it to make this island a bigger one. Of course it is no secret that this island is a military training facility for the armed and ready Singapore.
Here’s a fact. Singapore has been in talks with Indonesia over a defence pact(although it yet to be ratified due to a snag over Singapore’s non agreement to an extradition treaty) that would give the Singapore Armed Forces access to land on Indon soil for the purpose of military training.
It has also just signed a defence cooperation pact with India (read here) that gives it yet another training base. It already has a good defence pact with Brunei, USA, Australia and France.
Why do I tell you all this? Well, it only underscores the fact that Singapore is increasing its military capability and it needs whatever little space it can get. I don’t blame them at all, considering their geopolitical situation.
And, mind you, they argue rather eloquently at the International Court of Justice over their claim. And what does our own people do?
The latest reported on this matter I saw here. Malaysian slant of the story here. A rather disturbing chain-of-events chronicled at Screenshots. If this patently amateur maneuver involving blogs and plagiarism indeed did take place, well goddamnit! It’s a cheap shot indeed.
It might have put paid to a lot of hard work by an expensively-assembled team of international lawyers and negotiators. What a bloody shame!