Philippines Revives Claim to Sabah, Sparking Twitter Spat with Hishammuddin

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The Philippine foreign minister sparked a diplomatic fight over Twitter by asserting ownership over Sabah, reviving a longstanding territorial dispute with Malaysia.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein, on his official Twitter account, said he will summon the Philippine ambassador on Monday in reaction to his Philippine counterpart’s July 27 tweet.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin tweeted that “Sabah is not in Malaysia if you want to have anything to do with the Philippines,” reacting to a US Embassy item describing the area straddling both nations as part of Malaysia.

Sabah is a long-standing, on-and-off flashpoint between the neighbours, with the most recent flare up in Feb 2013 when followers of a self-proclaimed sultan of Sulu, sought to claim sovereignty and led to clashes that killed dozens.

The sultans of Sulu once ruled over Sabah and the Sulu islands in southern Philippines. The state fell under British control after World War II and joined Malaysia in 1963, shortly after Sulu ceded its sovereignty to the Philippines.

The Sabah state itself is facing its own domestic political upheaval as the opposition party said it has enough majority in state parliament to take over – leading Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal, who has also been touted as a possible prime minister candidate, to hold a lengthy meeting with the state governor late on Wednesday amid talks of a snap state election.

The exchange between Hishammuddin and Locsin:

This is an irresponsible statement that affects bilateral ties. @MalaysiaMFA will summon the Philippines Ambassador on Monday to explain. Sabah is, and will always be, part of Malaysia.

— Hishammuddin Hussein (@HishammuddinH2O) July 29, 2020

You summoned our ambassador for a historically factual statement I made: that Malaysia tried to derail the Arbitral Award. This was reported to us by our diplomats on the scene and our German lawyer. None may share our Hague victory who worked against it.


— Teddy Locsin Jr. (@teddyboylocsin) July 29, 2020