At the Oxford Union, an interesting exchange took place between Malaysian Prime Minister (PM) Mahathir and a 22-year-old history and politics undergraduate from Singapore.
The two approached the matter of Singapore and Malaysia’s complex relationship. The student, Darrion Mohan, began by saying that Singapore and Malaysia were “again embroiled in an unnecessary and potentially internecine maritime dispute”, referring to the Johor chief minister’s recent intrusion into waters off Tuas.
He then asked Tun Mahathir if any action would be taken against the chief minister, implying that condoning such an act would worsen tension between Singapore and Malaysia. “Would you not agree actions like this contribute to the perception that your government is pugnacious, that your government acts in bad faith and that your government… wants a return to the days of confrontational diplomacy and barbed rhetoric?” he asked.
Dr Mahathir did not immediately answer Mr Mohan’s questions, and instead asked if he was a Malaysian.
Mohan then attempted to direct the conversation back to issues he had raised, including the Singapore-KL high speed rail project, the maritime dispute, and calls to revise water supply prices.
Dr Mahathir responded by saying that the 1962 Water Agreement between the two countries was unfair to Malaysia. On the maritime dispute, Dr Mahathir stated that “the Menteri Besar went without our permission”, adding that “he thought it was Johor waters, that’s why he went there”.
Furthermore, Dr Mahathir said Singapore’s reaction to the intrusion was quite exaggerated, “as if you are going to war”, and described the waters off Tuas as international waters, justifying the intrusion.
Mohan then relinquished his turn for someone else to ask questions, but not before clarifying that the waters were not neutral and were Singapore’s according to a 1979 map that Malaysia had tabled.
On a Facebook post, Mohan pointed out that Dr Mahathir’s statement that it was ‘international waters’ contradicts claims made by Mahathir and the Malaysian transport minister that the waters actually belong to Malaysia.
The Oxford student has drawn some flak from netizens for having a tone that was too aggressive with the statesman. However, in a report by the Straits Times, he said that the Oxford Union (where the exchange took place) was first and foremost a debating society.
“When leaders speak at the Union, there has always been a strong tradition of them being confronted with tough questions and challenged robustly.”Darrion Mohan in response to the criticism against him
Mohan also told ST he thought it would be “interesting” to hear from Mahathir himself on the ongoing bilateral maritime dispute, adding that a “back-and-forth exchange” like the one he had with Mahathir is “rare”.