Dr. Mohd Hazmi Mohd RusliFakulti Syariah dan Undang-undang
Malaysia is a country smacked in the middle of Southeast Asia sharing its land borders with Thailand, Singapore, Brunei and Indonesia. Among all these nations, Malaysia possesses the most international land (and river) gateways with Thailand. Eight of the gateways are Wang Kelian-Wang Prachan and Padang Besar in Perlis, Bukit Kayu Hitam-Dannok and Durian Burung-Ban Prakob in Kedah, Pengkalan Hulu-Betong in Perak and Bukit Bunga-Bu Ke Ta, Rantau Panjang-Sungai Golok and Pengkalan Kubor-Tak Bai in Kelantan.
The present Malaysia-Thailand border was initially determined by the British and the Siamese governments in 1909 through the Bangkok Treaty. This 1909 Treaty allowed for both administrators to draw an uninterrupted 646km international line from the West to the East, from Perlis to Kelantan, separating the southern Thai provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat with their counterparts in Kelantan and Terengganu. The province of Setul was dissected from Kedah and became Satun today.
Out of this 646km, 551km is land-boundary line and another 95km is a line drawn using Sungai Golok as the international border separating British Malaya and Siam. The border line obviously favoured the Thais as the Malay rulers were ignored when the 1909 Treaty was concluded. For example, when a straight line towards the east is drawn from Kedah and Perlis, the line would cross Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Songkhla provinces which are not part of Malaysia. This has caused Malaya to lose a number of majority-Malay territories to the Siamese in 1909.
If the British and the Siamese used the northernmost point in Perlis and drew a line towards the east and the west of the Peninsula, Malaya would obviously be larger, as depicted in the following Map 1. Peninsula Malaysia that we inherit today were the successor State of British Malaya that gained independence in 1957.
Map 1: The territories that would be part of Malaya in 1909 should the British and the Siamese used the northernmost point in Perlis to draw a straight line to separate Malaya and Siam (Source: Modified from GoogleMaps).
Malaysians have to realise that the northern states of Peninsula Malaysia are just a fraction of what was supposed to be part of our nation today. Therefore, there is a need for both the government and the people to work together to protect the sanctity of our nation’s sovereignty.
International land-boundary gateways are the first impressions of any visitor that pass through them. National symbols like flags and emblems depict sovereignty of a country that could be witnessed by travelers the moment they cross the international line from one nation to another.
One can witness this simply by just visiting the international Malaysia-Thailand gateway in Padang Besar or Bukit Kayu Hitam-Dannok. Travellers could witness the Thai flag flying high right at the Kilometer 0 of the international line. The potrait of the King of Thailand, Maha Vajiralongkorn is displayed with pride alongside the imposing Thai flag. Nevertheless, just a couple of steps across, Jalur Gemilang’s presence is almost non-existent on the Malaysian side.
Figure 1: The International Thai-Malaysia Gateway at Bukit Kayu Hitam-Dannok- where is Jalur Gemilang?
The same could be witnessed in Padang Besar where the Thai national seal is branded on the walls of the building of the immigration complex with the Thai flag flying high – indicating the national spirit of expressing ‘THIS TERRITORY IS OURS!’.
Nevertheless, the moment one enters Malaysia, the Jalur Gemilang on display looks old, weak and incapacitated. Is this how we potray our national pride and identity to the world?
Figure 2: The International Gateway in Padang Besar – the stark difference between the high flying Thai flag and the decrepit Jalur Gemilang
Malaysia will never lose these territories in the frontiers the way we lost Batu Puteh as Malaysia has exercised effective occupation as provided for under international law. Our police and military personnel have never failed to conduct surveillance and patrol in these last frontiers of the nation to prevent unwarranted trespass. International community has also recognised these states as part of Malaysia.
Figure 3: Malaysian territory in Padang Besar begins at the yellow and blue coloured fence. No presence of Jalur Gemilang in contrast with the Thai flag flying with pride
Nonetheless, this does not mean that we could just take it easy in reiterating sovereignty through the display of our national symbols at our international Malaysia-Thai land gateways. We should change our attitude of showing appreciation on something only when we have lost them.
The international land gateways are symbols of the sanctity of our sovereignty and should be equipped with the symbols of power, pride and the nation’s indentity – not much, just a simple flag pole flying Jalur Gemilang should suffice.
Mohd Hazmi bin Mohd Rusli (Ph. D) is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Syariah and Law, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia and visiting professor at the School of Law, Far Eastern Federal University, Vladivostok, Russia.