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Ahead of Jokowi's visit, Putrajaya warned against giving up claims in maritime disputes with Jakarta

They say Malaysia cannot afford to compromise on these claims.

3 minute read
Indonesian President Joko Widodo. Photo: Reuters
Indonesian President Joko Widodo. Photo: Reuters

Maritime experts involved in efforts to protect Malaysia's territorial rights have warned the government against signing any new agreements to settle a long-running border dispute with Indonesia ahead of President Joko Widodo's visit today, MalaysiaNow has learnt from sources familiar with the issue.

They said Malaysia could not afford to compromise on its claims involving disputed areas with Jakarta in the Sulawesi Sea and in the southernmost part of the Straits of Melaka.

They also warned Putrajaya that any change from the policy of previous governments with regard to the two areas must involve the participation of the governments of Johor and Sabah, whose maritime interests would be affected the most if any agreement to settle the dispute is reached.

"If Malaysia makes any compromises, not only will Johor stand to lose its sea territory, it will also face a negative impact on its maritime economic activities including those related to the Tanjong Pelepas Port," a source in Wisma Putra told MalaysiaNow on condition of anonymity.

The source added that similarly, Sabah's Tawau Port would be affected by any agreement that surrenders Malaysia's claims in the Sulawesi Sea.

"At the same time, the issue of maritime borders in Pulau Sebatik, which is at the heart of the maritime dispute in the Sulawesi Sea, cannot be resolved because Indonesia has not budged from its position," it said.

The source also told MalaysiaNow that experts engaged by Wisma Putra to study the two maritime disputes had concluded that Putrajaya should not agree to proposals which they say will limit Malaysia's sovereignty in the southernmost part of the Straits of Melaka.

"They feel that Malaysia must negotiate with Singapore before opening any talks with Indonesia. This is because Singapore has already agreed with Indonesia on the maritime borders there, although the fact is that Malaysia has a case to stake its claim on the said territory," it said.

President Jokowi is on a two-day working visit to Malaysia starting today, where he and Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim are scheduled to witness the signing of several MoUs and agreements between the two countries.

MalaysiaNow has not been able to confirm whether the maritime disputes will be part of the agreements.

Malaysia stands to lose

Meanwhile, a former Asean diplomat told MalaysiaNow that Malaysia could lose a wider territorial sea area should it agree to a current proposal to solve the dispute in the Straits of Melaka. 

He said the problem with the proposal was that it was based on an existing maritime boundary agreement between Indonesia and Singapore.

He said the findings of maritime experts concluded that Malaysia could claim areas within three nautical miles from the Johor coast.

"This is why the Johor government should be part of any negotiations to solve the dispute."

It is understood that maritime experts also oppose another proposal involving a dispute with Indonesia on sea territory in the Sulawesi Sea, believing that it would undermine Malaysia's interests as well as those of Sabah.

The dispute centres on the coast of Pulau Sebatik, where an Indonesian jetty has been constructed.

The source said experts had cited the 2002 decision by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that ended a decades-old dispute between Malaysia and Indonesia over the ownership of the Ligitan and Sipadan islands in the Sulawesi Sea.

The ICJ ruled that both islands belonged to Malaysia.

"The court ultimately comes to the conclusion that Article IV determines the boundary between the two parties up to the eastern extremity of Sebatik Island and does not establish any allocation line further eastwards," the ICJ said in its ruling.

The source said experts had advised Putrajaya that in the context of maritime boundaries, "eastern extremity" refers to the "low-water line" on which a country's baseline is determined. 

"As such, they advised the government to reject the proposed boundary line because it does not cover from the low-water line of Pulau Sebatik," the source said, adding that Indonesia would not agree to set its maritime boundary line from Pulau Sebatik as this would mean its jetty encroaching into Malaysia's territory.