Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island: Sovereignty that has not been achieved

Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island: Sovereignty that has not been achieved


Christmas Island is an island in the Indian Ocean located 350km away from Java Island.

The closest Australian port to the Island is Karratha in Western Australia, 1,600km away on the mainland.

Although Christmas Island is geographically closer to Indonesia, it is part of the ‘ external territory of Australia ‘.

This remote island was first explored by European sailors in 1615. It was named Christmas Island by Captain William Mynors when he sailed to it on Christmas Day in 1643.

The island remained uninhabited until a settlement was built at Flying Fish Cove in the 19th century.

The island was colonized as part of the British Empire on June 6, 1888. Realizing that it was rich in phosphates, workers from British Malaya, Singapore and China were brought in to work in the mines there.

This migration forms the demographics of various races and cultures on this island, including people of Chinese descent with a population of 21%, Malays 17% and others.

The island has a dark history of discrimination against non-whites, but things have improved now. There are 1,700 people who make this island their hometown.

Like Christmas Island, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands are territories under Australian sovereignty that were once colonized by the British in 1857.

These islands are located 1,000 kilometers away from Christmas Island. The Cocos (Keeling) Islands were discovered by Captain William Keeling in 1609 and so named.

Migration to these islands began in the 19th century when workers of Malay descent from Malaya were brought in to work in the copra fields.

This region now has a population of 600. The majority of the population is of Malay descent, with the main leader (Shire President) being Encik Aindil Minkom, a citizen of Malay descent.

Transfer of Sovereignty

Malaya is a British-administered region in Southeast Asia. Penang was taken from the Sultan of Kedah in 1786 and Singapore was handed over to the British by the Sultan of Johor in 1819. Melaka was exchanged for Bengkulu in Sumatra in 1824.

These three colonies were united as the Straits Settlements in 1826 with Singapore as the mother country in 1886.
Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands were made part of the Straits Settlements in the same year.

The Japanese occupation between 1941 and 1945 saw a big change in the political scenario in Malaya.

The British failed to establish the Malayan Union in 1946 due to the strong opposition of the Malays. The Malayan Union was replaced by the Federation of Malaya in 1948.

When the Federation of Malaya became independent in 1957, Singapore was still a British colony.

Sovereignty over Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands was transferred from Singapore to Australia in 1958 and 1955 respectively.

Unlike Malaya, the British did not grant independence to Singapore. However, Singapore was united to form Malaysia in 1963.

If the transfer of sovereignty to Australia had not happened a few years earlier, Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands would probably have become part of Malaysia with the accession of Singapore in 1963.

If these territories belong to Malaysia, imagine how much maritime territory the country can claim, in the form of maritime territories, exclusive economic zones and continental shelves.

With the remote location of these islands, these maritime claims will not overlap with other countries as maritime claims in the South China Sea.

However, since Singapore has only been part of the Federation for two years, sovereignty over these territories will probably remain with Singapore, not Malaysia.


Although Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands are located thousands of kilometers away from Malaysia and Singapore, these regions share the same history and culture as former British colonies that have a large population of Malay descent.

It is something special to realize that the Malay language and culture remain blooming and fresh in the archipelago located far in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

If it wasn’t for Australia taking over these territories, these islands might just be national.

In fact, what happened illustrates the sovereignty that was not accomplished.

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