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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: July 2009

10 - International law and secession in the Asia and Pacific regions



In recent history, the incidence of secessionist movements in the Asia-Pacific region, an area characterised by great ethnic, religious and cultural diversity, is an important area of international practice. Separatist initiatives threaten regional order where spatial and personal autonomy schemes fail to contain ethno-nationalist demands.

A range of claims to independent statehood might be encompassed under the term ‘secession’, defined as ‘the separation of part of the territory of a State carried out by the resident population with the aim of creating a new independent State or acceding to another existing State’. In the post-colonial era, this entails the partition of the territory of a sovereign, independent State, where a group belonging to it seeks to separate itself to create a new State, in contrast with East Timor, previously a non-self-governing territory. This region has seen the emergence of States from non-colonial situations in a consensual and bilateral manner, such as Singapore, which, after two years, peacefully seceded by mutual agreement from the Malaysian Federation in 1965. Indeed, it was the central government's view that Singapore should leave the federation, as the political agitation of Singaporean politicians was perceived as a threat to the inter-ethnic harmony. Separation was effected through the Independence of Singapore Agreement, concluded between the Governments of Malaysia and Singapore on 7 August 1965, whereby the former relinquished sovereignty and jurisdiction over Singapore.