Origins of the Dispute
The dispute over Pedra Branca between Singapore and Malaysia originated on 21 December 1979 when Malaysia published it’s Map Showing the Territorial Waters and Continental Shelf Borders and for the first time included Pedra Branca within her territorial waters. In a response to the 1979 map, Singapore lodged a protest against it on 15 February 1980, rejecting Malaysia’s claim and requesting it to recognise Singapore’s sovereignty over Pedra Branca. The note also reiterated that no country has ever questioned or contested Singapore’s sovereignty over the island. Since then, there have been a series of bilateral exchanges, in the hope of solving the problem of ownership of Pedra Branca. After failing to resolve this problem bilaterally, both Singapore and Malaysia signed a Special Agreement on 6 February 2003, formally notifying the International Court of Justice of their decision to submit the dispute to the Court for arbitration. Written memorials were submitted by both sides to the Court in 2004 before commencing oral proceedings on 6 November 2007. Oral proceedings formally ended on 23 November, initiating the Court’s deliberations over the case. SINGAPORE’S REASONS FOR OWNERSHIP OF PEDRA BRANCA
Singapore is contesting Malaysia’s claim over Pedra Branca for several reasons, for purpose of clarity and organization; the reasons will be organized into three sections. The official reasons cited in the International Court of Justice written and verbal arguments, reasons that stem from Singapore’s foreign policy and strategic reasons
Singapore disputes Malaysia’s claim over Pedra Branca because the construction and maintenance of the Horsburgh Lighthouse in 1851 by the British colonial government was a mark of sovereignty over the island. It also maintains that it has been exercising sovereignty through the “consistent, open and effective display of State authority” over Pedra Branca and it surrounding waters. Moreover, Singapore has undertaken these duties without objections or claims from any other country until the publication of the 1979 map.
Reasons related to Singapore’s Foreign Policy
Although the Singapore government is well aware that by contesting the claim on Pedra Branca with Malaysia and bringing it to the purview of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is a potential threat to bilateral relations, it has relentlessly done so since 1980 to protect its sovereignty and national interests, in accord with its foreign policy tenets.
Sovereignty as defined by Hans Morgenthau is “the appearance of a centralized power that exercised its lawmaking and law enforcing authority within a certain territory” , emphasizing the importance of territory while discussing the issue of sovereignty. States, therefore, expect complete and unquestioned authority over the space within their legal boundaries. Territorial disputes occur when two states have the same expectations over the same piece of land.
A quick analysis of Singapore’s foreign policy objectives shows that the fundamentals underlying Singapore’s foreign policy is the vulnerability of being a small state, buttressed between two huge neighbours, and the constant need to ensure the survival and sovereignty of Singapore. The need for Singapore to protect its independence stems partly from historical events such as the Japanese Occupation and the Separation of Malaysia and Singapore. The Japanese Occupation allowed Singaporeans to witness firsthand the ineptness of their British protectors and highlighted to them that the security of Singapore should never be taken for granted and should never be placed in the hands of others but their own. The Separation serves as an even more poignant reminder that “Singapore’s vulnerability as a small state and the perpetual need of its citizens to ‘defend’ the island state from all forms of aggression”.
Singapore recognizes that as a small state,...