PETALING JAYA – Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad clarified on Thursday (June 23) that he was not asking for Malaysia to reclaim lands it had lost, including Singapore.
He said his remarks on Sunday were to put the loss of Pedra Branca, also known as Pulau Batu Puteh in Malaysia, into perspective.
“I was just pointing out that we are concerned over losing a table-sized rock but not about bigger parts of Malaysia when they were taken from us,” he said in a statement, adding that his comments on Sunday had been taken out of context.
The 96-year-old said losing Pedra Branca was not a big deal.
“It was the mistake of the Johor government to deny that the rock belonged to the state.
“If the denial had not been made, there would be no dispute now.
“We should be grateful that the World Court awarded Pulau Ligitan and Sipadan to us which are much more valuable than Pulau Batu Puteh, (which is) just a rock outcrop,” he added.
Dr Mahathir said Malaysia should be thankful that Indonesia has not disputed the award.
“Really, we are not grateful for our gains,” he added.
Dr Mahathir had spoken at a congress on Sunday and was quoted as suggesting that the Riau islands and Singapore should be reclaimed as they were historically “Malay lands”.
“We should demand not just that Pedra Branca or Pulau Batu Puteh be given back to us, we should also demand Singapore as well as the Riau Islands, as they are ‘Tanah Melayu’,” he was reported to have said.
Known for his controversial remarks, Dr Mahathir had been speaking at an event in Selangor organised by several non-governmental organisations under the banner Kongres Survival Melayu (Congress for Malay Survival) and titled Aku Melayu: Survival Bermula (I am Malay: Survival Begins).
In his opening speech, which was live-streamed on social media, Dr Mahathir, who is MP for Langkawi, said that what was known as Tanah Melayu used to be extensive, stretching from the Isthmus of Kra in southern Thailand all the way to the Riau Islands, and Singapore, but is now confined to the Malay Peninsula.
In 2002, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) had ruled that Sipadan and Ligitan belonged to Malaysia and not Indonesia.
In 2008, the ICJ ruled that Pedra Branca belonged to Singapore, while sovereignty over the nearby Middle Rocks was awarded to Malaysia.
In 2017, Malaysia applied to the ICJ to revise this judgement. But in May 2018, after Dr Mahathir became prime minister again, Malaysia announced that it would discontinue the proceedings.