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Singapore acts to prevent unilateral third-party arbitration amid maritime boundary dispute with Malaysia

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The declaration, lodged with the United Nations in New York, comes amid an ongoing maritime boundary dispute with Malaysia over Singapore territorial waters off Tuas.

SINGAPORE has filed a declaration under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to ensure that no signatory of the international treaty can unilaterally start third-party arbitration or adjudication on maritime boundary disputes involving the Republic.

Singapore said it believes such disputes are best settled through negotiations, failing which, it is prepared to take them to an international third party for settlement on terms that all sides agree to.

The Republic filed the declaration under Article 298(1)(a) of UNCLOS on Wednesday (Dec 12), in order for such recourse to international dispute settlement to be based on the mutual agreement of the parties, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesman said on Thursday.

The declaration, lodged with the United Nations in New York, comes amid an ongoing maritime boundary dispute with Malaysia over Singapore territorial waters off Tuas.

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Singapore has informed Malaysia that it has filed the declaration.

This declaration means that other countries that have signed UNCLOS cannot unilaterally commence third-party arbitration or adjudication against Singapore in respect of maritime boundary disputes. Singapore, likewise, cannot unilaterally commence third-party arbitration or adjudication against other countries for such disputes.

"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," the spokesman said in response to media queries.

"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," he added.

The MFA spokesman also said: "Should a dispute arise that cannot be resolved through negotiations, Singapore will work with the other States Parties 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. This is preferable to one party taking another unilaterally to arbitration or adjudication, without prior mutual agreement on these key issues."

The spokesman noted that many countries that have signed UNCLOS, such as France, Canada, Italy, Spain, Australia and Thailand, have made similar declarations.

On Oct 25, Kuala Lumpur unilaterally gazetted extended port limits for Johor Baru Port, which encroached into the Republic's territorial waters. While a section of those waters has yet to be delimited, Singapore agencies have been patrolling them for decades.

Singapore has responded by extending its own port limits, and insisting that Malaysia withdraw its government vessels and return to the pre-Oct 25 status quo, without prejudice to its claims.

Kuala Lumpur has said it cannot do so, but is committed to de-escalate the situation.

Singapore has said it welcomed Malaysia's moves to defuse tensions, and both sides are expected to meet in the second week of January to discuss the matter.

"As noted in Singapore's press statement of 10 December 2018, representatives of Singapore and Malaysia will be meeting in the second week of January 2019 to discuss and exchange views on the Johor Bahru port limits issue," the MFA spokesman said.

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

The spokesman added: "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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