Malaysia and Practical Implications of Unresolved Maritime Boundaries
JTMS recently conducted an interview with Dr. Su Wai Mon regarding the contents of her article titled, “The Practical Implications of Unresolved Maritime Boundaries: Special Reference to the Malaysian Position,” published in the Winter/Spring 2022 issue of JTMS.
Dr. Su Wai Mon is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya. Her areas of research interest include maritime security, International Law of the Sea and public international law.
The full text of Dr. Su Wai Mon’s article can be found on the Articles tab of the JTMS homepage. JTMS is very thankful for her time and consideration in giving us this interview.
Q1: Has Malaysia concluded with its neighboring states any Joint Development Agreement for exploration or exploitation in the areas with overlapping claims? If not, given the background of its conflicts with its neighbors, what are the odds of such an agreement to be concluded in the future?
As discussed in my article, Malaysia is still required to overcome the challenges emanating from the pending maritime boundary disputes with its neighboring countries, in particular, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines and Brunei.
Malaysia has successfully concluded Joint Development Agreements with Thailand, Vietnam and Brunei which create (Malaysia– Thailand Joint Development Area); (Malaysia– Vietnam Commercial Arrangement Area); and (Brunei Malaysia– Brunei Commercial Arrangement Area) respectively for exploration or exploitation of oil and gas in the areas with overlapping claims and all of these initiatives are found to be quite successful.
In response to the question, it’s significant that Malaysia would opt for any means of peaceful settlement of its ongoing maritime boundary disputes as required under international law including the conclusion of joint development agreements so long as there exists a mutual interest for both Malaysia and its counter claimants.
Q2: Your article mentions that Malaysia has “a favorable record of trusting the international adjudication process and respecting the rule of law.” Some of the disputes have started many decades ago. Since negotiations have not reached any agreement, why didn’t Malaysia choose to solve these disputes through other peaceful means of dispute settlement, such as the ICJ for example?
It is evident that Malaysia has a favorable record of trusting the international adjudication process and respecting international rule of law based on its compliance with the decisions of international courts and tribunals in Pulau Batu Puteh Case (Malaysia/Singapore), Pulau Sipadan Pulau Ligitan (Indonesia/Malaysia) and Singapore land reclamation case (Malaysia-Singapore).
Regarding the pending disputes, Malaysia seems to be trying to exhaust all the means of peaceful settlement under international law including negotiations considering adjudication as the last resort particularly because of its approach in maintaining the peaceful relations with its neighbors/counter claimants. In addition, submission of the case to the world court such as ICJ would require the contesting countries to have prior mutual agreement to submit the case to the ICJ.
However, as mentioned in the article, Malaysia has to take seriously about the maritime territorial disputes which compromise its maritime security and suggested to speed up the negotiation process with its counter claimants. While negotiations are underway, effective cooperation and collaboration with authorities from its neighboring countries has to be ensured to sustain safety and security in disputed maritime territories.
Q3: Which delimitation (of those mentioned in your article) do you consider most difficult to achieve, and why?
Obviously, South China Sea dispute is the most challenging one since there are overlapping claims including sovereignty claims over maritime features by various countries.
In addition, maritime boundary delimitation between Malaysia and the Philippines in the Sulu Sea could be even more contentious because of the Philippines’ claim of sovereignty over North Borneo (Sabah). Therefore, it is not an easy task unless both countries bilaterally reach a peaceful agreement on the issue of the Philippines’s territorial claim over North Borneo (Sabah).
The Philippines have been enduring territorial claim over Sabah and it officially proposes that North Borneo (Sabah) forms part of the Philippine territory based on historic right or title. Currently, Sabah is under the sovereignty of Malaysia, where it was incorporated into the Federation of Malaysia in 1963.