Singapore files declaration to UNCLOS to prevent unilateral commencement of 3rd-party arbitration on maritime boundary dispute

A Malaysian vessel intruding into Singapore territorial waters off Tuas. (Screenshot of video by Singapore’s Ministry of Defence)
A Malaysian vessel intruding into Singapore territorial waters off Tuas. (Screenshot of video by Singapore’s Ministry of Defence)

Amid the ongoing maritime boundary dispute with Malaysia, the Singapore government on Wednesday (12 December) filed a declaration under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to prevent the unilateral commencement – by Singapore or any other country – of third-party arbitration or adjudication on such disagreements.

Should a dispute arise that cannot be resolved through negotiations, Singapore will work together with the other signatories to agree on the choice of forum and the specific issues to be decided, in order that the matter can be submitted to arbitration or adjudication, Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement on Thursday.

MFA said that the declaration – lodged with the United Nations in New York – is preferable to one party taking another unilaterally to arbitration or adjudication, without prior mutual agreement on the key issues.

It added, “Singapore believes that maritime boundary delimitation disputes are best resolved through negotiations, in order to reach an amicable settlement acceptable to all of the parties.

“However, if this cannot be achieved, Singapore is prepared to settle such a dispute by recourse to an appropriate international third party dispute settlement procedure, on terms mutually agreed to by the parties.”

Malaysia informed of filing

Singapore has informed Malaysia of the filing of the declaration. Countries such as France, Canada, Italy, Spain, Australia and Thailand have made similar declarations under UNCLOS.

Singapore and Malaysia have previously agreed to bilaterally submit territorial disputes for arbitration. In 2003, the two countries signed a bilateral agreement to resolve the territory dispute around the island of Pedra Branca at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In 2008, the ICJ ruled that the sovereignty over Pedra Branca belongs to Singapore.

MFA noted in the statement that representatives of both countries will be meeting in the second week of January to discuss and exchange views on the Johor Bahru port limits issue.

It said, “Singapore hopes that by engaging each other, the two governments will reach a swift and amicable resolution, in accordance with international law.

“Singapore will continue to uphold international law and remains committed to the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law.”

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