Mahathir claims his comments on Singapore and Riau taken 'out of context'

Former two-time Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad on Thursday (23 June) said his recent comments on Malay lands were taken out of context.
Dr Mahathir Mohamad delivering his speech titled Melayu dan Kelangsungan Bangsa (Malays and National Continuity) at an event on 19 June 2022. (SCREENCAP: YouTube/Astro Awani)

Former two-time Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad on Thursday (23 June) said his recent comments on Malay lands, which sparked controversy in Singapore and Indonesia, were taken out of context.

In a short statement, Dr Mahathir said, "I am not asking Malaysia to claim the land that we had lost. I am trying to point out that we are so concerned over losing a table-size rock but never about bigger parts of Malaysia when they were taken from us."

The 96-year-old MP for Langkawi and Parti Pejuang Tanah Air (Homeland Fighters' Party) chairman also said that losing Pedra Branca, or Pulau Batu Puteh, "is no big deal".

"It was the mistake of the Johor government to deny that the rock belonged to Johor. Had that denial not been made, there would be no dispute now," he said.

"We should be grateful that the world court awarded Pulau Ligitan and Sipadan to us. They are much more valuable than Pulau Batu Puteh – just a rock outcrop," he added.

Speech uploaded online

In his speech on Sunday, which was uploaded online by Astro Awani, Dr Mahathir said that historically, Malay lands stretched from the Isthmus of Kra in southern Thailand to the Riau Islands.

"We should demand not just that Pedra Branca, or Pulau Batu Puteh, be returned to us, instead we should also demand for the return of Singapore and the Riau Islands to Malaysia as Malay lands," he said to audible applause from his audience.

"But today, we are left with only the peninsula... I wonder whether we will continue to own this peninsula. I am worried for the future of Malays, whether the peninsula land will also be owned by another party," he added.

In 2002, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Sipadan and Ligitan belonged to Malaysia and not Indonesia.

But in 2008, the ICJ awarded Pedra Branca to Singapore. Malaysia applied for a review of the judgment in 2017 but withdrew the review application a year later after Dr Mahathir became prime minister for the second time.

Indonesia rejects Dr Mahathir's claim

On Wednesday, Indonesia's foreign ministry said there was no legal basis for Dr Mahathir's claim that the Riau Islands belonged to Malaysia.

Under international law, the nearly-1,800 islands that make up the Riau Islands province belong to Indonesia, said foreign ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah, according to news portal Tempo.

"Indonesia does not see any legal basis and reason for Tun Mahathir's statement," he reportedly said.

"In a time when the world is facing many challenges, a senior politician should not be making baseless statements that can harm friendships," he added.

Dr Mahathir's speech, titled Melayu dan Kelangsungan Bangsa (Malays and National Continuity), was delivered at the event Aku Melayu: Survival Bermula (I'm Malay: Survival Begins) in Selangor. It was organised by Kongres Survival Melayu (Congress for Malay Survival), a grouping of several NGOs.