A pundit who should know better asks in his column: If Malaysia owns Sabah, why does it pay rent to the Sulu sultanate? That’s because Malaysia recognizes the proprietary rights of the sultanate to Sabah. If a person has a private property in another country, that person has a right to some economic benefit from its use. But Malaysia reserves for itself the right of sovereignty — the right to govern Sabah.
To those who say that the sultanate of Sulu doesn’t exist, the government of Malaysia is too intelligent to pay rent to an imaginary sultanate. The Philippine foreign secretary isn’t so stupid as to apologize for a misplaced letter to a figment of the imagination. The sultanate is poor and might have made a tragic mistake in breaking Malaysian law by sending its people to settle in Sabah. But it exists.