Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Apathy made us lose Pulau Batu Puteh

AS mature nations Malaysia and Singapore have earned the respect of the international community for accepting the International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision on Singapore’s claim to Pulau Batu Puteh made on May 23. The decision was accepted in good faith with no untoward incident by citizens of both countries.

Nevertheless, for Malaysia it is a lesson well learnt that should not be repeated. Due to carelessness, apathy and goodwill Malaysia inadvertently handed Pulau Batu Puteh on a silver platter to Singapore.

My short stint at our country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs handling the Singapore desk has given me an insight into the psychological psyche of how Singapore operates or rather tick with precision as follows:

  • The siege mentality strengthens their will for survival. Being an island republic, they have to expand physically outward and upward. Any unoccupied landmass, island or coral reef provides an opportunity for expansion.

  • Their will to survive have made their leaders very focussed in projecting and planning for the future. Their diplomats are handpicked and well trained in the art of diplomacy and they don’t take bilateral relations for granted.

I once had an outing with Singapore diplomats at the Press Club. Over drinks they casually brought up the topic of Pulau Batu Puteh. I remembered vividly the conversation:

“What’s the situation on Pedra Branca?” asked my Singapore counterparts. I responded humorously “Are you referring to the Portuguese lady?” And all of us had a good laugh.

The moral of the story is that Singapore diplomats are well trained to gather information at all occasions. To them any outing is business and has great implication to Singapore’s survival.

I hope the ICJ decision has opened the eyes of Malaysian leaders and officials in not taking the country’s sovereignty for granted. Being nice, accommodating and tidak apa has its limits.

I sympathise with the fishermen of Tenggarang, Johor who have now forever lost their traditional resting place at Pulau Batu Puteh.

Gombak, Selangor.

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