Why KRI Usman Harun is not welcome


IT WOULD be wrong to view Singapore's decision to bar KRI Usman Harun from its ports and naval bases as a tit-for-tat response.

Instead, it is a studied and calibrated signal that certain acts of neighbours are simply not acceptable when they defy diplomatic norms. Unfortunately, a long-time ally's naming of its warship after two saboteurs falls into this category of insensitive conduct.

The 1965 bombing of MacDonald House by the Indonesian terrorists killed three innocent civilians and injured 33.

In refusing to reconsider its move in spite of Singapore's earnest pleas, Jakarta made it clear that it was standing by its decision to honour the two for the bombing that occurred during Indonesia's Confrontation against Malaysia, which then included Singapore.

This left Singapore with little choice but to reject the affront inherent in the Indonesian move by barring the warship.

Also, the Singapore Armed Forces will not sail alongside or participate in training exercises with an ominously named ship associated with an era of state-sponsored terrorism. That essentially is what Konfrontasi, Indonesia's undeclared war on its neighbour, was.

The acts of terrorism clearly breached international law and Jakarta's insistence on keeping alive an inglorious era of regional history cried out for a response. In international affairs, sentiments and words matter only when accompanied by action.

Members of the Indonesian establishment who wonder what the fuss is all about act as if historical sensitivity is not germane to bilateral relations.

It is, particularly in the light of the strenuous efforts made over decades to build a strong economic, political and security relationship between the two nations.

In broad outline, the deep understanding and rapport achieved during the Suharto-Lee Kuan Yew years survived the departure of the two statesmen from the regional scene.

However, assertive Indonesian nationalists occasionally have found it expedient to take Singapore for granted as a little red dot that should be put in its place by an archipelagic elder brother.

Wiser leaders know that such actions have no place within a circle of friendly nations. That is what the fuss is all about.

A plan by Indonesian businessmen to erect a statue of the two terrorists in Batam, a stone's throw away from Singapore, shows how quickly nationalist fervour can gain runaway momentum.

Instead, it is necessary for citizens of both countries to look into ways of renewing respect and friendship in the aftermath of this sorry episode.

Geography has made the two nations neighbours; the pressing realities of globalised economics call for even closer cooperation. Culturally, the two South-east Asian neighbours ought to understand each other instinctively.

Indonesians and Singaporeans have a common stake in a peaceful and prosperous future.

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