TL;DR – Controversial remarks are common from Mahathir, but this one goes a little beyond the line.
Last week (19 June 2022), former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad spoke about how Singapore was once owned by the state of Johor. As a result of this history, Johor – and therefore Malaysia, should claim for Singapore’s return as part of its territories.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the implied meaning behind that statement – if Mahathir was the sitting prime minister and made such a remark, imagine how much waves it would rile up. Does it mean that if Singapore was not economically and militarily strong, Malaysia would actually ‘take its chances’ in reclaiming Singapore?
It is a timely reminder of the importance of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Singapore’s security should never be taken for granted, even after almost 57 years of independence. Mahathir’s statement(s) come amidst a sensitive time, where the concept of sovereignty is overshadowed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Mahathir took another jab at the Government of Malaysia, speaking of how “there is no demand whatsoever of Singapore” and instead Malaysia had to “show (its) appreciation to the leadership of this new country called Singapore”. A very salty statement right there.
Mahathir distracted his domestic audience – claiming that Malaysia remains poor because Malays tend to sell their land and therefore the Malaysia today is not owned by Bumiputera (indigenous peoples of East Malaysia). Shouldn’t the welfare of a people belonging to a political entity be the responsibility of the Government ruling over it?
Would Malaysia really be successful if it is completely owned by Bumiputera? As Prime Minister of Malaysia for a total of 24 years, I think he knows the answer better than anyone.
It doesn’t end here – Mahathir even proposed staking claims over the Riau Islands, a province of Indonesia. From Pedra Branca, Pulau Batu Puteh to Singapore and the Riau Islands, Mahathir claims that they are Tanah Melayu (Malay land).
If Mahathir had forgotten, the deep political and economic differences between the ruling parties of Singapore and then-Malaya resulted in a short-lived union between the two entities. Singapore separated from Malaysia on 9 August 1965 to become a sovereign state.
What does it mean for Singapore to be sovereign?
It means that Singapore is a state recognised by the international community of sovereign states, and power rests with Singaporeans – we make our own rules and exercise them through our Parliament. Most importantly, we are neither dependent nor subjected to any other power(s) or state(s).
We owe much of Singapore’s sovereign status to one of our founding fathers, S. Rajaratnam. Mr Rajaratnam was Singapore’s first Foreign Minister. During his tenure, he worked tirelessly to admit Singapore into the United Nations, and later the Non-Aligned Movement in 1970. He actively established diplomatic links with other countries and secured international recognition of Singapore’s sovereignty.
As much as any entity can claim independence, sovereignty is ultimately dependent on whether all other sovereign states in the international community chooses to recognize it. Singapore continues to be recognized today, thanks to the efforts of our founding fathers in laying the foundation, and the successive generations of leaders that have continued to build upon the foundation to maintain Singapore’s sovereignty.