No such Sabah claim, says Dr M
Published on: Friday, March 08, 2019
By: Nikko Fabian
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MANILA: There is no such thing as a Sabah claim as far as Malaysia is concerned, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said Thursday. 

Responding to a Philippine-based broadcaster asking him to comment about that country’s claim to Sabah, which was declared part of the new Malaysian federation in 1963, Thursday, he said:

“As far as we’re concerned, there is no claim.”

Mahathir, who is in the country on an official visit, also said there would be no discussion between him and President Rodrigo Duterte on Sabah. 

“We will not discuss that,” he said, shaking his head to follow up questions. 

The Philippines has claimed parts of Sabah, citing a land lease agreement in 1878 between the Sultanate of Sulu and the British North Borneo Chartered Co. In November 2016, Duterte and then Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had agreed to set aside the dispute. 

In 2013, hundreds of militants from Tawi-Tawi went to Lahad Datu in Sabah to assert the claim, calling themselves “Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo.”

Later, at a joint press conference with Duterte, Dr Mahathir expressed desire to further strengthen the existing harmonious bilateral relationships between the two neighbours.

Dr Mahathir, on a two-day official visit, met Duterte on issues of mutual interest and concern after being given a red-carpet welcome.

He lauded Duterte for his efforts to attain peace in Mindanao.

“We are very gratified to be congratulating you on the peace that has been achieved in Southern Philippines,” Dr Mahathir said.

“This is a problem that has lasted, I think, from the Spanish period. But it has taken centuries even for proper conclusion to be achieved. And the conclusion there must be sought of course is that of achieving peace in the nation of the Philippines”.

He cited Duterte’s “generosity” in achieving peace in the southern region and stressed the need to have a good government that looks after the people.

“This is a country of 7,000 islands divided by the seas but it is still one nation. And I think the people of the Philippines deserve to have a good system of government that caters to the needs and visions of all its people,” he said.

“Although we belong to a regional group, it is only after we became independent that we knew that there are countries within the group,” he stressed.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad also assured Duterte of Malaysia’s commitment and desire to assist in the development of Mindanao.

He said Mindanao has vast economic potential to be developed and the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) would help to boost economic ties between the two countries.

“I congratulated Duterte on the success of the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) and the appointment of members into the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA).

“I look forward to the smooth transition of the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) to the interim government of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (BARMM),” said Dr Mahathir.

The BOL is a Philippine law providing for the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, an autonomous political entity that replaces the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.  

On economic matters, Dr Mahathir said he and Duterte also discussed trade between the two countries, which is increasing in Malaysia’s favour.

“One of the main priority areas where cooperation can be exerted is the enhancing of connectivity, which is vital to promoting economic development. Malaysia and the Philippines have been actively involved in the BIMP-EAGA and could use this platform to assist the Mindanao Development Authority,” he said.

BIMP-EAGA is the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area.

He said the Philippines is ranked as Malaysia’s 15th largest trading partner globally, and fourth largest trading partner among the Asean member states and, therefore, both he and Duterte strongly believed that trade and investment flow between the two countries could be further strengthened in the coming years.

“I look forward to the finalisation and the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Government of Malaysia and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines on Cooperation in the Field of Health.

“I highlighted that Malaysia is a favourite healthcare destination for the Philippines. The number of patients from the Philippines seeking treatment in Malaysia has been increasing over the years,” Dr Mahathir said.

He said Duterte and he also emphasised the importance of education and discussed programmes for teachers and students in the Madrasah religious schools, especially in Mindanao.

On security matters, Dr Mahathir said Malaysia is committed to taking the necessary steps to address the serious issue of terrorism and violent extremism through the Trilateral Cooperation Agreement (TCA) that involves collaboration among Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia. 

He said that under that framework, Malaysia and the Philippines, together with Indonesia, have agreed to undertake trilateral maritime and air patrols to tackle the growing security challenges.

“We also exchanged views on a number of regional and international issues of mutual interest, such as the South China Sea and cooperation within Asean,” he added.


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