New era in Brunei, Malaysia bilateral ties

By Waleed PD Mahdini

His Majesty and the Malaysian premier exchange signed letters as
HRH the Crown Prince and HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah look on. – JASON

The six-year territorial dispute between Brunei Darussalam and Malaysia
has finally been resolved with the historic signing of Exchange of
Letters yesterday between His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of
Brunei Darussalam and Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Prime Minister
of Malaysia.

The formalisation towards the milestone settlement was held at the Istana Nurul Iman and was witnessed by
His Royal Highness Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah, the Crown Prince and Senior Minister at the Prime
Minister’s Office, HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Pehin Orang Kaya
Pekerma Dewa Dato Seri Setia Awg Lim Jock Seng, Second Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade and
Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Lela Dato Seri Setia Awg Hj Abdul Rahman bin Dato Setia Hj Mohamed Taib,
Minister of Education.

Malaysian Foreign Minister, Datuk Seri Utama Dr Rais Yatim, as well as the negotiating teams from both
sides also witnessed the signing.

According to a press release from the Prime Minister’s Office, “the Exchange of Letters marked a historic
and momentous occasion for Brunei Darussalam and Malaysia. It included the final delimitation of maritime
boundaries between the two countries; the establishment of Commercial Agreement Areas (CAA) in oil and
gas; and the modalities for the final demarcation of land boundaries between Brunei Darussalam and

His Majesty and the Malaysian Prime Minister further “believed that the signing has paved the way for the
development of a strategic partnership and collaboration between the Sultanate and Malaysia, especially in
the fields of trade and investment, energy and hydrocarbon resources, tourism, education, agriculture,
infrastructure, banking, Halal industry and people-to-people contacts with special focus on the Malaysian
states of Sabah and Sarawak”.

The Malaysian premier in a news conference with Malaysian journalists claimed that Brunei has officially
dropped its long-standing territorial claim over Limbang, a northern division in Sarawak, marking a new era in
the bilateral relations between both countries.

The prime minister added that the matter was part of the historic Exchange of Letters inked between him and
His Majesty, Bernama reported.

Limbang, located on the banks of Sungai Limbang between the two halves of Brunei and covers an area of
3,978 sq km with a population of more than 40,000, was annexed by James Brooke, the first Rajah of
Sarawak, in 1890 to become the fifth division of Sarawak.

Abdullah thanked His Majesty and his government for the positive action in making the solution a reality and
said the border issues would now cease to haunt the relations between both countries.

“With the issue solved, Brunei and Malaysia can now enter a new era of bilateral relations and cooperation in
various fields and there is no more unhappiness over the issue,” he said.

Meanwhile, describing the Exchange of Letters between both countries as a “happy ending” and a win-win
situation for both parties, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister said that the result was a compromise between both
governments in the spirit of neighbourliness.

“The resolution of this matter between the Sultan of Brunei and the Prime Minister has very high value in the
context of intra-Asean cooperation and between both countries.

“The letters contain several principles of cooperation to be implemented in the surveying and demarcation of
the land and maritime borders,” Datuk Seri Utama Dr Rais Yatim told foreign reporters.

The dispute occurred in 2003 when Brunei and Malaysia awarded petroleum production-sharing contracts for
four overlapping deepwater exploration blocks in the South China Sea, close to where a 440 million-barrel
discovery was made the year before.

Brunei awarded one of its exploratory blocks to France’s Total, BHP Billiton and Hess Corp and the other to
Shell, Mitsubishi and ConocoPhillips whilst Malaysia’s Petronas awarded its two blocks to US firm Murphy

Datuk Seri Utama Dr Rais Yatim said, “A joint Brunei-Malaysia technical committee will be set up to translate
to the ground today’s territorial dispute settlement between the two countries.”

The minister further elaborated that the responsibility of the committee is to settle technical issues related to
surveying, delimiting and demarcating both the land and maritime boundaries between the two countries.

“It may take time for the working groups to settle the technical issues,” he told the Malaysian journalists,
adding that petroleum exploration and exploitation activities in the area would have to wait until all the
technical details have been settled.

It was understood that as a means in reaching the historic agreement both countries had used five old
treaties regarding the demarcation of the borders, which started since 1920 that will serve as the guide for all
future dealings.

Furthermore, the “watershed principle” would be used to determine the land boundary while the United
Nation’s Convention on the Law of the Sea will guide both countries in dealing with the remaining issues
over their overlapping maritime claims.

The ‘watershed principle’ is based around the notion that if the preservation of natural features depend upon
the preservation of topography and if the fundamental topographic unit is the watershed, then the
preservation of natural features depend upon the watershed.

Issues involving the welfare of the entire watershed also become tractable under such an alignment.
However, current technology, such as the Geographic Information Systems, makes it possible to alter the
inventory of lands to create suitable, substantial changes, in legal definitions. But the use of technological
capability to make legal definitions corresponding more closely to natural definitions can lead to the
resolution of territorial disputes whereby, the closer the fit between natural and man-made boundaries the
fewer the disagreements will be.

The UN’s Convention on the Law of the Sea takes into account due regard for a legal order for the seas and
oceans as a means to facilitate international communication, and to promote the peaceful uses of the seas
and oceans, the equitable and efficient utilisation of their resources and the conservation of their living
resources in order to contribute to the realisation of a just and equitable international economic order, which
takes into account the interests and needs of mankind as a whole and, in particular, the special interests and
needs of developing countries.