PEDRA BRANCA JUDGMENT
The world court's decision on Pedra Branca has untied a "tricky knot" in bilateral ties between Singapore and Malaysia, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said yesterday.
Both sides can now "look forward instead of being bogged down by this issue", he told reporters ahead of a charity golf tournament to raise funds for the needy in Yuhua constituency.
He also lauded the calm reactions in both countries to the decision, saying that this showed "a maturing of our relationship".
"This augurs well for the future. We can now look at things in a more positive way and handle any further disputes in the same matured manner," he added.
Last Friday, the International Court of Justice in The Hague awarded Pedra Branca to Singapore, ending a 28-year tussle for sovereignty over the island.
The ICJ also awarded two smaller outcrops near it, Middle Rocks, to Malaysia.
But it did not make a definitive ruling on South Ledge, a rock formation visible only at low tide.
That rock belongs to whoever owns the territorial waters it sits in, the ICJ said, adding that it was not tasked with defining those boundaries.
Even before the ruling, both sides said they would accept the court's outcome - something Mr Goh described as "positive".
Since the ruling, some Malaysian leaders have also described the decision as a "win-win" situation.
It was in 1994 that then-prime minister Goh and his then-Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad decided to refer the issue of overlapping claims to Pedra Branca to the ICJ.
Asked if the ruling brought closure for him, Mr Goh said it did: "It has been a long drawn out saga...And I look at the outcome in a positive way."
As to whether he was worried about sentiments in Johor, he said: "We will leave it to the Malaysians to manage."
"So far they've managed it very well. They of course are unhappy, and I thought, nevertheless, they reacted in a rather calm manner," he said.
"Personally, I'm disappointed that we did not get the award for Middle Rocks," he added.
"I thought it would either be all or nothing, a binary solution, because the three rocky outcrops were quite close to one another."
"But nevertheless, there is a hint of Solomon in the decision," he said, referring to the Biblical king known for his wisdom.
"And I think perhaps it's the fair and best outcome for both sides."
As for South Ledge, both parties have to sit down and decide how to draw boundaries according to international law to determine ownership.
But Mr Goh is optimistic about the eventual outcome.
"I do believe that given the goodwill assured by both sides in bringing this dispute to the ICJ, the matter will be settled quite amicably," he said.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on 26 May 2008.