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Monday, July 15, 2024

Malaysia rejects Philippines’ fresh maritime border claim

Malaysia’s rejection of the Philippines' claim is likely to further complicate the already tense situation in the region.

Malaysia has firmly rejected the Philippines’ recent claim on the state of Sabah, declaring its intention to defend its territories against any encroachment. The dispute, which has its roots in colonial-era agreements, has once again ignited tensions between the two Southeast Asian nations.

Diplomatic Dispute Reignited

On Sunday, Malaysian Foreign Minister Mohamad Hasan responded to a diplomatic note filed by the Philippines with the United Nations (UN). The note from Manila outlined its intention to extend its continental shelf, including claims on the Sabah state of Malaysia. Hasan, also known as Tok Mat, emphasized Malaysia’s stance, stating, “Malaysia is an independent sovereign nation that will fight any claim on our territories.”

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The diplomatic note from Malaysia to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, submitted late last month, firmly rejected the Philippines’ claims. This response is part of Malaysia’s ongoing efforts to counteract what it sees as illegitimate territorial assertions by its neighbor.

Historical Context of the Sabah Claim

The controversy over Sabah, located on the northern tip of Borneo, dates back to colonial times. Malaysia incorporated Sabah in 1963, a move recognized by the UN. However, the Philippines has consistently argued that Sabah “rightfully” belongs to them, based on historical agreements from the colonial era.

In its note to the UN, Manila registered its entitlement to an extended continental shelf in the Western Palawan region of the South China Sea. This extension defines the seabed areas over which the Philippines claims sovereign and exclusive rights to exploit natural resources. According to Hasan, the Philippines’ claim that its maritime border runs through Sabah implies an assertion of ownership over the state.

Malaysia’s Firm Stance

Hasan reiterated that Sabah and Sarawak formally became part of Malaysia decades ago, a fact recognized by the UN. “We are an independent and sovereign nation, and no one can just come and stake a claim on any of our territories,” he stated. Malaysia’s government has been clear in its position that the territory was legitimately ceded to it by the British, dismissing the Philippines’ claims as unfounded.

Persistent Dispute

The dispute over Sabah has persisted for decades, periodically flaring up due to diplomatic notes, legal actions, and even armed incursions. Manila’s recent actions have once again brought this long-standing issue to the forefront, challenging the stability of regional relations.

In 1963, the incorporation of Sabah into Malaysia prompted the Philippines to lodge a formal claim. Despite Malaysia’s consistent assertion that the territory was legally ceded, the Philippines has maintained its stance, occasionally escalating the issue through various means, including legal actions and diplomatic communiqués.

Regional Implications

This renewed dispute comes at a time when the South China Sea region is already fraught with territorial tensions. The Philippines’ attempt to extend its continental shelf in the Western Palawan region is part of a broader strategy to assert its maritime rights in the South China Sea, a region with significant strategic and economic importance.

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Malaysia’s rejection of the Philippines’ claim is likely to further complicate the already tense situation in the region. Both countries are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which has been striving to manage regional disputes through dialogue and cooperation. However, the Sabah issue remains a sensitive topic that continues to challenge diplomatic relations within ASEAN.