Jayakumar and Tommy Koh offer insight into Pedra Branca dispute at ST Book Club

(From right) Madam Rosalind Kho, 77, poses with Professor S. Jayakumar and Professor Tommy Koh at the National Library on March 27, 2019.
(From right) Madam Rosalind Kho, 77, poses with Professor S. Jayakumar and Professor Tommy Koh at the National Library on March 27, 2019.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - The Straits Times Book Club on Wednesday (March 27) took a dip into the waters around the Pedra Branca case, as Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh and former deputy prime minister S. Jayakumar discussed their new book on the subject, and even got into an exchange with a former Malaysian High Commissioner.

More than 300 people attended the book club's 12th edition at the National Library to hear the authors reveal behind-the-scenes details of the two Pedra Branca cases that they were both involved in, to ST opinion editor Chua Mui Hoong.

Singapore has had a decades-long dispute with Malaysia over the small island of Pedra Branca, which an International Court of Justice ruling gave Singapore sovereignty over in 2008. Malaysia later made applications for a revision and interpretation of this ruling. The case was to go before an international court last June, but Malaysia withdrew before it took place.

The book, Pedra Branca: Story Of The Unheard Cases, was written by Prof Koh, Prof Jayakumar and deputy attorney-general Lionel Yee, who could not attend.

Prof Koh said they wrote the book because they wanted an informed citizenry.

"We want the people to know international law is important to all countries, but especially important to small countries. It is both Singapore's shield and our sword," he said. "If not written about, these cases would be lost to history."

Prof Jayakumar had said in June last year that he was not surprised Malaysia had withdrawn the cases, as they had "very weak legal basis".


In the audience on Wednesday night was Datuk N. Parameswaran, High Commissioner of Malaysia to Singapore from 2003 till 2008. He described Prof Jayakumar's remarks as "presumptuous" and "pompous", adding: "The case is almost done, the story is over... Why couldn't you just have said thank you?"

Responding, Prof Jayakumar said: "Why did Dr Mahathir withdraw the cases? Was it an act of magnanimity or goodwill to Singapore? He asked for a briefing by the international lawyers as well as the Malaysian lawyers about this case.

"They told the prime minister 'these cases are doomed to fail'."

Prof Koh, ever the diplomat, added: "I hope it's not too late, but I thank you for withdrawing the case."

The book club runs every last Wednesday of the month. At the next session, ST associate editor Vikram Khanna and global strategy advisor Parag Khanna will discuss their books, Headwinds And Hazards and The Future Is Asian.

Readers can register at str.sg/oDyB.