Dr Mahathir Mohamad said on Thursday (Jun 23) that his comment – Johor once owned Singapore and that Johor should claim it and return it to Malaysia – was reported out of context.

Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad clarified that the report of him lacked the context to show he was mocking the idea that Johor should reclaim Singapore and the Riau Islands.

Malaysian news website malaymail said: “On June 20, Singapore news outlet The Straits Times reported him as making the remarks in a speech the previous day, which Dr Mahathir categorised as “inaccurate”. Singling out the Straits Times, the website added: “The ST reported Dr Mahathir as saying Malaysia should not stop at claiming Pedra Branca, but also Singapore and the Riau islands as these were once part of the country”.

Dr Mahathir’s remarks drew widespread criticism. According to the Indonesian news outlet Tempo, a spokesperson named Teuku Faizasyah from Indonesia’s foreign ministry said, “Indonesia does not see any legal basis and reason for Tun Mahathir’s statement,” using Mahathir’s federal title.

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Faizasyah added, “In a time when the world is facing many challenges, a senior politician should not be making baseless statements that can harm friendships.” He added that the Riau Island Archipelago will always be Indonesian territory.

In his statement, clarifying, Dr Mahathir added:I am not asking Malaysia to claim the land that we had lost. I am trying to point out that we are so concerned over losing a table-size rock but never about bigger parts of Malaysia when they were taken from us. Losing Pulau Batu Puteh is no big deal. It was the mistake of the Johore Government to deny that the rock belonged to Johor. Had that denial not been made, there would be no dispute now“.

We should be grateful that the world court awarded Pulau Ligitan and Sipadan to us. They are much more valuable than Pulau Batu Puteh – just a rock outcrop. We should be thankful that Indonesia has not disputed the award. Really, we are not grateful for our gains,” he said. 

In his June 19 speech, it was initially reported that Dr Mahathir said Johor once owned Singapore but also that Johor should claim it and return it to Malaysia. However, he softened the blow somewhat by adding, “However, there is no demand whatsoever of Singapore. Instead, we show our appreciation to the leadership of this new country called Singapore.”

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At one point in the speech, he also said that Malaysia should also get back the Riau Islands, “as they are Tanah Melayu (Malay land),” The Straits Times reported. Dr Mahathir made these remarks in Selangor last Sunday, at an event put together by a number of non-governmental organisations titled Aku Melayu: Survival Bermula (I am Malay: Survival Begins). In that speech, he also wondered “whether the Malay Peninsula will belong to someone else in the future.”

Mahathir says Singapore should be returned to Malaysia — Netizens say ‘It’s time for you to retire lah’