Bilateral ties could suffer if the Philippines continues to insist it has claims over the Malaysian state of Sabah, said analysts, a day after Putrajaya issued a strong rebuke against “unfriendly” remarks from its Southeast Asian neighbour. In an acidic statement, the Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry said: “ Malaysia does not recognise and will never entertain any claims by any party on Sabah”. It added that Sabah’s position as a state of Malaysia was “recognised by the United Nations and the international community” since the formation of the Federation of Malaysia 56 years ago. What’s behind the revived dispute between Philippines and Malaysia over Sabah? The row was triggered by Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jnr, who last week referred to the nation’s “claim” on the state during a congressional budget briefing. “Our plan now is to keep things as they are,” he was reported as saying by the Manila Bulletin in response to a lawmaker asking about the possibility of opening an embassy in Sabah, which is home to a large Filipino diaspora. “We shall never have an embassy in Sabah. To even think of it is an act of treason,” Locsin said. “As for the West Philippine Sea, we are careful not to make any act that can be interpreted as an abandonment of our Sabah claim,” he said. I hate traitors. My father fought for Sabah. Teodoro Locsin Jnr The Philippines’ top diplomat also wrote some coarsely-worded posts on Twitter, saying the nation’s capital should be moved to the Malaysian state. Locsin said in a tweet he would “put a contract” on anyone who proposed the Philippines open a consulate in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah, and drop its territorial claim. He said he did not care who proposed it and “treason is treason and that is a shooting offence”. Locsin also lashed out after a Filipino law professor pointed out that Manila in 2001 had clarified it only laid claim to a piece of territory in North Borneo, rather than all of Sabah. “I know treason when I smell it and this one reeks of creeping sovereign abandonment,” he said on Twitter. “I hate traitors. My father fought for Sabah. He and I were present at the planning of the invasion. Proud of it. It is homo to be soft on this.” The Malaysian Foreign Ministry warned that any statements alluding to “anachronistic claims” would be rejected as unfriendly towards Malaysia. “Malaysia accords great importance and high value to its relations with the Republic of the Philippines, bilaterally and as partners in Asean , as well as other regional and international organisations. “The Malaysia-Philippines relationship that continues to expand and bring mutual benefits to the two countries and the respective peoples certainly does not deserve such unfriendly and harmful comments,” it said. Kamarulnizam Abdullah, a national security and international affairs expert, said the Sabah issue has been a persistently contentious bilateral theme for several decades, and is often used by Filipino politicians to shore up domestic support, particularly when the country is near elections. “Obviously, Malaysia is tired of being dragged to the issue for years. Manila’s position on the issue keeps changing. On several occasions, after regime changes, Manila tended to soften its position on Sabah. They appeared willing to make some kinds of concession in the spirit of Asean,” he said. “For Malaysia, Filipino politicians have to move on rather than harping on about the issue. This is not the first time, but since it came from a lawmaker, Putrajaya has to send a strong message to Manila,” Kamarulnizam said. “This is a non-negotiable matter. It does not mean that when the government changes, Malaysia’s sovereignty is compromised and it is willing to negotiate on Sabah.” The Sabah issue is a very emotional one in the Philippines, driven by sentiment. Bunn Nagara, Asean watcher The Philippines has long maintained it has territorial claims over the eastern portion of Sabah based on an agreement signed in the 1800s between the Sulu Sultanate and the North Borneo Chartered Company (NBCC), a colonial-era British chartered company mandated with exploiting the region’s natural resources. The Philippines says the territory was merely leased to the NBCC, while Malaysia maintains the agreement saw the territory ceded and that residents of Sabah exercised their right to self-determination when they helped form the Federation of Malaysia in 1963. Even with this, the Philippines has no legal claim to Sabah, as the territory was linked to the now-defunct Sulu Sultanate, according to Asean watcher Bunn Nagara, a senior fellow at Malaysia’s Institute of Strategic and International Studies. Non-Muslim goods boycott a ‘ticking time bomb’ for Malaysia “Remarks like these won’t amount to anything except to perhaps sour relations. When we look at the issue logically and rationally, there is no reason for these remarks to be made time and time again – but the Sabah issue is a very emotional one in the Philippines, driven by sentiment, and not historical facts or reality. It unites Filipinos regardless of their political stance on a whole host of other issues.” In reality, if the Philippines were to move its capital to Sabah, “it would make it part of Malaysia”, Bunn said. In 2016, Malaysia’s then-prime minister Najib Razak and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte agreed to set aside the dispute, three years after hundreds of militants from the Tawi-Tawi province in southern Philippines arrived by boat in Sabah’s Lahad Datu district to assert their claim on the territory. During the 2013 incursion, Malaysian security forces killed 56 militants, and subsequently sentenced nine to death and deported tens of thousands of undocumented migrants back to the Philippines. Current Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad , who also served as premier from 1981 to 2003, told reporters earlier this year that “as far as Malaysia is concerned, there is no claim”.