Thursday, 13 February 2014

KRI Usman Harun Issue

Be sensitive to Singapore's feelings. This is the message from two former diplomats, responding to Indonesia's decision to name a naval vessel after the two marines who bombed MacDonald House in 1965.

Sensitivity is a two-way street
By Bilahari Kausikan, Published The Straits Times, 13 Feb 2014

INDONESIAN Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has told the Singapore media that "no ill intent was meant, no malice, no unfriendly outlook", when Indonesia named a new frigate KRI Usman Harun, after two Indonesian marines executed in 1968 for a 1965 terror attack on MacDonald House in Orchard Road that killed three and injured 33.

Singaporeans will no doubt be happy to know this. But I am afraid that the Foreign Minister entirely missed the point.

The issue is not Indonesia's intentions. It is something far more fundamental. Indonesians never tire of reminding Singapore that we should be "sensitive" and "neighbourly". But Indonesians do not seem to believe that they should be equally "sensitive" to their neighbours. "Sensitivity" and "neighbourliness" are to them a one-way street.

These are the facts: Between 1963 and 1966, then Indonesian President Sukarno waged a "Konfrontasi" (confrontation) of terror attacks and military action to "Ganjang (crush) Malaysia". Singapore was part of the Federation of Malaysia formed in September 1963 until August 1965 when it became independent.

In Singapore alone, there were some 40 bomb attacks over about two years. Most of the targets could by no stretch of the imagination be considered legitimate military objectives. They included schools, hotels, cinemas, bus depots, telephone booths and residences.

MacDonald House was an office building. The victims of that bombing were civilian office workers. Relatives of the victims are still alive. Older Singaporeans still remember the fear and uncertainty of that period. Are we not entitled to some "sensitivity"?

The two who planted the bomb, Osman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said, may have been Indonesian marines, but were in civilian clothes and sneaked into Singapore for terror attacks against civilians. They were found guilty of murder and executed after they had exhausted all legal appeals.

What would Indonesians think if the Singapore Navy were to go crazy and name one of its warships after Noordin Top, the terrorist behind bombings in Jakarta in 2004 and 2009 and who may have assisted in the 2002 Bali bombings?

The late President Suharto sent a personal emissary to plead for clemency for the two marines. But they had been convicted of murder after due legal process. On what grounds could Singapore have pardoned them?

To have done so would have been to concede that the small must always defer to the big and irretrievably compromise our sovereignty.

After Singapore refused the clemency appeals, a Jakarta mob then sacked our embassy, burned our flag and threatened to kill our ambassador.

There were actually four Indonesians on death row in Singapore in 1968 for crimes committed during Konfrontasi. Two others, Stanislaus Krofan and Andres Andea, had their sentences remitted after pleas by the Indonesian government and were sent back to Indonesia. The bomb they planted did not kill anyone.

A few years later in 1973, Singapore's then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew placed flowers on the graves of the two executed marines, thus bringing the episode to a close.

Both actions - standing firm on fundamental principle even at the risk of conflict and making a gracious gesture once the principle had been established - were equally important in setting the foundations of the relationship Singapore today enjoys with Indonesia.

The origins of Konfrontasi are complex: the political tensions and contradictions within Indonesian society of that time, Sukarno's fiery personality and grandiose ambitions for "Indonesia Raya" (greater Indonesia), among other things.

Self-righteous nationalism

THESE conditions are not likely to be repeated. But as the respected American scholar of Indonesia, the late Dr George McTurnan Kahin, wrote in 1964 while Konfrontasi was still ongoing, that episode of aggression towards its neighbours was the consequence of the "powerful, self-righteous thrust of Indonesian nationalism" and the widespread belief that "because of (the) country's size… it has a moral right to leadership".

Time may have given a more sophisticated gloss to this attitude but has not essentially changed it.

This attitude lies, for example, behind the outrageous comments by some Indonesian ministers during the haze last year that Singapore should be grateful for the oxygen Indonesia provides; it is the reason why Indonesians think Singaporeans should take into account their interests and sensitivities without thinking it necessary to reciprocate.

Indonesians and Singaporeans need to understand this.

Of course, Indonesia has the right to name its ship anything it pleases, as some Indonesians have argued. But that is beside the point.

Why choose a name that is bound to cause offence? That the Indonesians did not even think of the implications, as Foreign Minister Marty's comments to the media would suggest, is exactly the point.

I do not expect the Indonesians to change the name of the ship. But would any Indonesian leader be prepared to emulate Mr Lee Kuan Yew and place a wreath at MacDonald House?

It was not Singapore that started this incident. And Singapore has no interest in seeing relations with a close neighbour strained.

But Singaporeans cannot let this episode pass without signalling our displeasure.

The foundations laid for the bilateral relationship in 1968 and 1973 are still valid. Mutual respect is the essential condition for good relations.

My father was ambassador to Indonesia when Singapore's embassy was sacked. He was on leave in Singapore when the decision was taken to turn down the appeal for clemency. He went back to Jakarta to be at post when the execution took place.

After the mob attacked our embassy, he and all our staff remained at post, operating from Hotel Indonesia.

I was a schoolboy studying in Singapore at that time. But shortly after the attack, he summoned me to Jakarta to join him and my mother. I now realise that it was to show that we were not intimidated. It was my first lesson in diplomacy.

I spent a boring month holed up in Hotel Indonesia.

The only "entertainment" was the daily demonstrations in the square in front of the hotel, which included a seemingly endless stream of red-bereted KKO (Navy Commando Corps) commandos marching by, shouting threatening slogans.

But after a while, I realised that it was only a few units marching round and round in circles because I came to recognise the faces of individual soldiers. And that too is a lesson that Singaporeans should understand.

The writer is ambassador-at-large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he was, until May last year, its permanent secretary.

Why the past matters
By Barry Desker, Published The Straits Times, 13 Feb 2014

AT NOON on Saturday, the blast of air raid sirens will be heard again. It is a reminder that the fall of Singapore to the Japanese imperial army occurred on this date, Feb 15, in 1942. This year, for the second year, the Singapore Armed Forces will hold the Total Defence Commemoration Ceremony at the War Memorial Park on Feb 15.

As part of this event, recruits from the 3rd Battalion Singapore Guards will be handed their rifles in a weapon presentation ceremony at 6.20pm. This recalls the exact time of the surrender of allied forces to the Japanese at the old Ford Motor Factory on Upper Bukit Timah Road.

For a generation of Singaporeans now passing away, the Japanese occupation was the single most significant formative experience of their lives. The sense of helplessness, the fear of a new set of colonial overlords, the loss of close relatives and the dislocation of families resulted in many a story being told over dining tables as Singaporeans were growing up.

People in Singapore did not see themselves as one people in 1942. At most, you took care of those nearest and dearest to you. Beyond the family, clan and ethnic loyalties were probably most significant.

By contrast, over the past 50 years, there has been a gradual coming together of Singapore society. There is a sense of nationhood and an identification which goes beyond clan, race, language or religion.

Ties are emerging which link Singaporeans wherever they are, even if it is Singlish, celebrating Chinese New Year with lo hei, eating roti prata or satay and complaining about the educational system. But shared perspectives go beyond food or celebrations. We are now a more resilient society, with the ability to withstand challenges and to respond effectively.

Today, many Singaporeans have little exposure to riot, revolution and mayhem. It is difficult to believe that Singapore formed part of a region which was seen as the Balkans of Asia, a cockpit of war and conflict in the 1960s.

The Vietnam War spilled over into Laos and later Cambodia, while Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Burma, as it then was, were confronting major communist insurgencies.

A turbulent neighbourhood

NEVERTHELESS, Singaporeans are reminded from time to time that they live in a turbulent neighbourhood. The events of the past few days are one such reminder. Singapore reacted strongly to Indonesia's decision to name a naval vessel after Osman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said, two Indonesian marines who were executed by Singapore in 1968 for the MacDonald House bombing of March 1965. Three people were killed and 33 injured.

While the Indonesian armed forces appear to be seeking to limit the fallout resulting from the naming of the ship, there have been populist moves by politicians seeking to build their base as the April elections approach.

The MacDonald House bombing was the most serious incident in Singapore during Indonesia's Confrontation with Malaysia, an undeclared war from 1963 to 1966 which saw several hundred casualties across the archipelago. It included Indonesian paratroopers landing in Labis and seaborne landings in Pontian, as well as cross-border raids in East Malaysia. Singapore also faced a series of bomb attacks mounted by infiltrators.

The Indonesian decision on the naming of the ship was a surprise. It revived painful memories of an Indonesia which sought deference from its neighbours and was prepared to use force to implement its desires.

Singaporeans thought such memories had been banished by Indonesia's role in building Asean. In the 1960s, Indonesia sought to stride the global stage even as it antagonised its neighbours. Its leaders from Suharto onwards, however, have sought to increase their regional influence by more peaceful means.

Today, Jakarta's insensitivity towards its neighbours could have a costly impact on Indonesia's desire to play a role as a rising middle power in global affairs.

Most Singaporeans thought the MacDonald House bombing had receded into history, especially after then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew sprinkled flowers on the graves of the two Indonesian marines. He did this at the Heroes Cemetery in Jakarta in September 1973 during his first visit to Indonesia since independence, a move which led to Mr Suharto's first state visit to Singapore in 1974.

What this latest incident reveals is that in times of stress in bilateral relations, old grievances come to the fore.

In Indonesia, social media sites in recent days have gleefully referred to Singapore as a little red dot. They accuse Singapore of benefiting from Indonesia's travails and allege that Singapore provides shelter to corruptors and capital fleeing the country.

Bilateral relations have been smooth, but there is always a risk that Indonesia's highly competitive political system could lead nationalist politicians to stoke popular sentiments for domestic political gain.

For 30 years, when Indonesia was under the leadership of President Suharto, Singapore enjoyed excellent relations with Indonesia.

But with today's more democratic system, Indonesian leaders have to take greater account of public sentiments. Inevitably, this will lead to periodic tensions in bilateral ties. Fortunately, they have generally been well managed by Mr Suharto's successors.

While Singapore has prospered and now has an enviable standard of living, the island remains vulnerable as a city state. Creating a sense of security is vital as it underpins Singapore's economic prosperity, social equilibrium and political stability.

Events such as the commemoration of Singapore's surrender in 1942 remind us of Singapore's past experiences and raise awareness about the challenges that Singapore could face in the future.

In the same way, the response to the ship-naming incident highlights that just as Singapore is expected to be sensitive to its neighbours, there is also a need for them to be alert to issues which have caused unhappiness to Singaporeans in the past.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of Singapore's independence, Singaporeans should remember the troubled history of foreign invasions, communist subversion and communal riots that undermined our stability and well-being, and tested the unity of our forefathers.

With confidence born of a growing sense of shared values and identity, Singaporeans should also reflect on how much better prepared the country is today to face the challenges of the future.

The writer is the dean of the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University. He was Singapore's ambassador to Indonesia from 1986 to 1993.

Hard-won relations, so quickly forgotten
The decision to name an Indonesian warship after two bombers who attacked Singapore in 1965 undermines decades of effort to build military ties
By Winston Choo, Published The Straits Times, 14 Feb 2014

IT WAS about two years after I was commissioned as an officer in 1961 that Konfrontasi broke out.

Konfrontasi, or the "Crush Malaysia" campaign, launched by then Indonesian President Sukarno in 1963 to oppose the formation of the Federation of Malaysia, saw Indonesian troops engage in raids, bomb attacks and acts of subversion across the federation states.

At that time, Singapore was part of the Federation of Malaysia, and a target.

In 1964, I was sent to Sebatik Island, south of Sabah, and later, to the Kota Tinggi area in southern Johor as part of the 1st Battalion Singapore Infantry Regiment (1 SIR) to repel Indonesian infiltrators.

Those of us in 1 SIR did not suffer any casualties in our fights. However, our comrades in 2 SIR in Kota Tinggi were less fortunate, and several of them were killed. These are painful memories that can never be erased, particularly for those of us who have lived through the conflict.

In Singapore, at least 42 bomb explosions occurred, culminating in the bombing of MacDonald House that killed three people and injured 33 others on March 10, 1965.

It is crystal clear to me as a former military officer that such attacks - conducted by non-uniformed military personnel and directed at non-military targets, resulting in the loss of innocent civilian lives - were clearly illegal under the laws of armed conflict and went against every principle that I stood for.

It was thus with surprise and immense disappointment that I read about Indonesia's decision to name a warship after the two men responsible for bombing MacDonald House. Despite protests from Singapore, Indonesia has decided to stick to its decision.

When the perpetrators of the bomb attack were later executed in Singapore on Oct 17, 1968, relations between Singapore and Indonesia were fraught with tension and unease.

It was only years later that then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew sought to bring closure to the difficult episode during his trip to Indonesia in 1973.

People may have forgotten, but when then President Suharto visited Singapore in return in 1974, he signalled a major change in attitude towards Singapore by publicly accepting Singapore as an equal, independent state.

This set the tone for Singapore and Indonesia to move on and build a normal, healthy bilateral relationship that benefited both sides.

In the years since, our two countries have cooperated in many areas of mutual benefit, including in trade and investment, and military cooperation, as well as in Asean.

Hard-won relations

BECAUSE of this healthy state of affairs, in my 33-year career in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), I have had the good fortune to build many strong and close friendships with many TNI (Tentara Nasional Indonesia, or Indonesian National Armed Forces) counterparts, including the TNI leadership.

From my personal experience, this episode of naming a warship after the two bombers of MacDonald House which caused the death of innocent Singaporean civilians is not characteristic of the way the TNI would have handled matters back in my time.

It was clear to me that both sides understood the importance of maintaining a good degree of understanding and stability between our militaries, as a ballast to Singapore and Indonesia's bilateral relations, which may see ups and downs at the political level.

From a point before 1974, when the SAF and TNI hardly had any bilateral interactions, we took careful and deliberate steps, and worked hard to build up our ties to a level where our military leadership could easily pick up the phone and call each other.

This helped greatly in reducing any potential misunderstandings, as our commanders were able to consult in private and resolve sensitive issues quickly before things got out of hand.

Later, the close relationship saw an expansion of military-to-military cooperation, leading to more bilateral exercises and joint naval operations to keep our contiguous waters safe, like the Indonesia-Singapore Coordinated Patrols, which witnessed its 20th anniversary in 2012.

This level of cooperation was possible only because of the strong foundation of trust and understanding that we had built up through different generations of SAF and TNI leadership.

Times of crisis

IN TIMES of crisis, both countries have also come to each other's

aid without hesitation. When the Indian Ocean tsunami struck in 2004, the SAF was the first to reach and lend a hand, deploying an unprecedented amount of manpower and assets in its history of disaster assistance.

The close ties and familiarity between our armed forces were evident during the operation. The SAF and TNI regularly send our officers to each other's training courses, and the SAF officers who had graduated from the Indonesian military academies could speak fluent Bahasa Indonesia and had experience with the Indonesian way of doing things.

When Singapore was in need in December 1997, when SilkAir Flight MI185 crashed into the Musi River near Palembang, killing all 104 passengers and crew, the Indonesians came swiftly to our aid.

They spared no effort in supporting the search and rescue operation, deploying several ships to help locate survivors and recover the two black boxes.

It saddens me to think that those in the Indonesian establishment who decided on the name KRI Usman Harun for the warship - after the two convicted bombers - could have so quickly forgotten the deep relations that both countries have painstakingly built over the years, on so many fronts.

What Indonesia does not seem to realise is that such actions, taken without due consideration, not only disregard the sensitivities of a neighbouring country, but also undermine the decades of peace and friendship both our militaries have built in partnership, by reopening a closed chapter that both nations have agreed to lay to rest.

There are surely many other deserving warriors and soldiers in Indonesia's illustrious history, so why choose to name the warship in a manner that reflects the violence and callousness of Indonesia's past actions?

It appears that when decisions need to be made for one's own interests, the concerns of a small country like Singapore can be disregarded. The "little red dot" mentality is still alive and entrenched in the minds of many Indonesian officials.

This incident comes as a poignant reminder for those Singaporeans who believe that Singapore is no longer as vulnerable as before, and that a strong SAF is no longer necessary because relations are rosy and peace has prevailed in the past few decades.

There is no better moment than now for us as a nation to recognise that the peace and security of Singapore can never be guaranteed.

I have witnessed for myself how hard-won our recent decades of peace are. We have now witnessed how quickly things can turn sour overnight.

A small country like ours will face situations where others do not take us into account when they make decisions. If we do not have a strong and capable SAF, we leave ourselves open to being cowed, intimidated and vulnerable to pressures from larger states.

If we do not want this to be the reality for us and our children's generations, all Singaporeans must take on the collective responsibility of protecting our way of life and play our part for the defence of our nation.

Only then will we be able to stand up to challenges, shape our present and plan for the future that we most desire.

This is our only reality.

Lieutenant-General (Ret) Winston Choo was the first and longest-serving chief of the Singapore Armed Forces (1974-1992). He is currently chairman of Metro Holdings' board of directors and non-resident ambassador to Israel.

A more confident and difficult Indonesia
In the 1960s, a rising Indonesia chose a way of confrontation and conflict with its neighbours. The region is watching how Indonesia today relates to its neighbours, amid a bilateral row with Singapore over Indonesia's act of naming a navy ship after two soldiers executed for a bomb attack in Singapore.
By Hugh White, Published The Straits Times, 12 Feb 2014

IT IS not surprising that Singaporeans should be disconcerted by Jakarta's decision to name a new navy frigate in honour of two Indonesian marines executed in Singapore for crimes of terrorism.

Most obviously, of course, there is understandable concern about the feelings of people with family and friends who were among those killed in the bombing of MacDonald House in March 1965. This was, after all, an atrocious crime. But perhaps more importantly, it is an uncomfortable reminder of a difficult and dangerous period in Indonesia's relations with its neighbours.

And this reminder comes at a time when questions about Jakarta's future regional policy are inevitably being raised by the profound economic and political transformations under way in Indonesia itself, and in the wider East Asian region.

What kind of neighbour will a wealthier, more powerful and more democratic Indonesia be for us in the more complex, more contested and potentially more dangerous East Asia of the Asian Century?

For Singaporeans, the names Usman and Harun are reminders of the time of Confrontation in the early to mid-1960s. Two Indonesian marines, Osman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said, were convicted of the bomb attack that killed three and injured 33 in 1965.

In those years - the years of "living dangerously" - President Sukarno tried to take advantage of Cold War rivalries between America and China to expand Jakarta's power and influence over its neighbours, and he was prepared to use terrorism and military intimidation to achieve his ends.

Everyone in our region, Indonesian and non-Indonesian alike, owes a huge debt to President Suharto for his wisdom in abandoning his predecessor's adventurism after he took over from Sukarno, and for his skill in transforming the basis of Indonesia's relations with its neighbours from bullying and intimidation to trust, respect and cooperation within the Asean framework which he did so much to promote.

Of course, the same can be said for his counterparts among Indonesia's neighbours. Nothing typifies the tact, forbearance and statesmanship that helped to build stable relations between the giant Indonesia and its smaller neighbours so vividly as Singapore's then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's famous gesture of sprinkling petals on the graves of the two executed marines in Jakarta's Kalibata cemetery.

It was a remarkable gesture, only five years after they had been executed by his government. Mr Lee no doubt understood why it was important for these men to be honoured by the country they had served, even after the policy they had carried out had been repudiated, and why it was important for him to do so too, painful though it must have been for him. This was the kind of statesmanship that turned South-east Asia, in a few short years, from one of the world's most turbulent regions into one of its most peaceful.

But that is now a long time ago.

Today, a new set of leaders faces a new set of challenges in managing our region's relations, and they do it in very different circumstances.

Indonesia today is not the country it was under Suharto's New Order. For 15 years, it has achieved remarkably steady economic growth, even without the major reforms that would make such a difference to its ability to attract investment and realise its immense potential.

Indonesia today is again a rising power in the world, as it was under Sukarno, but built this time not on Sukarno's soaring revolutionary rhetoric, but on the much more durable foundation of solid economic performance.

How it will choose to use this power depends on the new generation of rising Indonesian political leaders, and how they can shape and respond to the popular will through Indonesia's rambunctious version of democracy.

Where will this lead?

Indonesia's neighbours have been very fortunate that since Suharto fell 16 years ago, his successors have stuck to the broad directions he set for Indonesia's regional policy. They have resisted the pressures that inevitably arise in any democracy to promote and exploit jingoism and xenophobia for domestic political advantage.

In the region, many will be watching with great interest to see whether the leading candidates in this year's forthcoming presidential election show the same restraint. It would be unwise to take it for granted that they will.

Even if they do, none of Indonesia's neighbours can assume that its foreign policy will remain essentially unchanged over the coming years.

It will seek to redefine its regional role as its relative wealth and power grow, and as the region itself changes under the influence of the rise of China, the emergence of India, and the inevitable implications for the roles of America and Japan.

No one should be surprised if we see over the coming years the emergence of a more confident, assertive Indonesia, more diplomatically and strategically active on the regional stage, and working not just through the medium of Asean, but increasingly as a key independent power in its own right.

There is no reason to assume that such an Indonesia would be threatening to neighbours like Singapore or Australia. But equally, no one should be surprised if this more confident Indonesia is a little harder to deal with, less willing to compromise and more inclined to assert what it sees as its interests.

In a very different context, Australia has seen this new assertiveness in its difficulties with Indonesia over intelligence revelations and the management of asylum seekers in recent months.

Unlike Singapore in the present case, Australia bears much of the blame for these problems, but any long-term observer of the Australia-Indonesia relationship cannot help but be struck by the greater firmness with which Indonesia is responding to these disputes.

Wherever the blame lies on particular issues, the rest of the region as well as Indonesia itself will need to learn to handle better the realities and sensitivities.

The writer is professor of strategic studies at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University.

When terrorists in one country are national heroes in another

By Johannes Nugroho, Published TODAY, 19 Feb 2014

Tensions are running high between Indonesia and Singapore over the former’s decision to name a naval vessel after two convicted members of the Indonesian Marine Corps, who carried out the bombing of the MacDonald House office building in Singapore on March 10, 1965.

The bone of contention lies in how Harun Said and Usman Ali, the two Indonesian commandos, are seen by both countries.

In Singapore, they are the perpetrators of the bombing of a civilian target, while the Indonesian government sees them as national heroes who carried out their duty during Konfrontasi (1963-66) with Malaysia.

The disparate labels for the two men are understandable considering Singapore, still part of Malaysia at the time, and Indonesia were locked in a dispute that stemmed from the latter’s objection towards the formation of the federal state of Malaysia, encompassing large swathes of territory on the island of Borneo that Indonesia had laid claim to.

However, objectively speaking, were Usman and Harun terrorists or were they war heroes?


Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines terrorism as the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal. By this definition alone, what the two men did qualifies as an act of terrorism.

Singaporean police records state that when they were arrested floating at sea, the two men said they were a fisherman and a farmer, before later confessing to the bombing.

However, it was not until later, during their trial for murder, that the two revealed they were members of the Indonesian Marine Corps with express orders to cause trouble in Singapore as part of confrontation with Malaysia. Apparently, the two men chose to reveal their status in the hope of being treated as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.

When the presiding judge denied them POW status — on the grounds that members of enemy armed forces who are combatants and who come here with the assumption of the semblance of peaceful pursuits and divest themselves of the character or appearance of soldiers, but are captured, are not entitled to the privileges of prisoners of war — Usman and Harun retracted their statements that they were members of the Indonesian military.


Despite lobbying by the Jakarta government for their release, Usman and Harun were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. However, when their bodies were brought back to Jakarta after their execution in 1968, the two were interred in the National Heroes Cemetery with full military honours.

It could well be argued that the granting of national hero status to the two men was Indonesia’s way of saving face after a failed diplomatic attempt to have the two released.

It was also a delicate time for Indonesia as the new government under then President Suharto was trying to extricate itself from the confrontation.

The hero status for both men was also anomalous even by Indonesian standards, as people given this recognition are usually those who perished in combat against enemy forces. Usman and Harun never actually met this criteria — as never during Konfrontasi did the Indonesian government nor its Malaysian counterpart officially declare war on each other.

So, essentially, both were perpetrators of a state-sponsored act of terrorism. Hence, the adamant position by the Singaporean government that Usman and Harun were terrorists.


By the same token, Indonesians should look at the incident as a lesson in how not to conduct bilateral relations. Sukarno’s accusation that Malaysia was a puppet state of the United Kingdom has never been proven.

To date, it remains obscure why Sukarno instigated the unofficial war against Malaysia in 1963. Some historians have argued that his earlier success in wresting Papua from the Dutch emboldened him to try a similar tactic with the former British Malaya, though Sukarno always publicly denied any territorial ambitions. Nevertheless, Sukarno’s coveting Malaysia as part of a Greater Indonesia may not have been just a flight of fancy.

In many ways, his model for the state of Indonesia was the ancient Majapahit Empire, which encompassed Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and parts of Thailand and Indochina.

Whatever his motives, the border skirmishes and acts of sabotage against Malaysia during Konfrontasi appeared to be designed to provoke the British, who had granted independence to Malaysia in 1957, into declaring war against Indonesia. Had they done so, Sukarno would certainly have obtained his evidence that Malaysia was simply an extension of British imperial powers.


Johannes Nugroho is a writer and businessman from Surabaya. This commentary was first published in The Jakarta Globe.

No escape for Singapore from history's tangled past
By Asad Latif, Published The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2014

WARTIME history is making a comeback in Asia, going by the ominous analogies it is providing for events today.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe noted recently that Britain and Germany had fought each other in World War I in spite of close economic relations.

Their ties were akin to those between China and Japan now, he suggested.

The point: Even good economic relations do not preclude war.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino has also been drawing historical analogies, comparing China's maritime assertiveness to German territorial expansionism before World War II.

Even closer to Singapore in both time and space, Indonesia is revisiting its place in Cold War history in deciding to name a frigate after Osman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said.

The two saboteurs, who bombed MacDonald House on Orchard Road in March 1965 and were executed by Singapore in 1968, have rekindled memories of the terrible Konfrontasi.

This was the Confrontation that Jakarta waged against Malaysia, which at that time included Singapore, for being what it perceived as a neo-colonial creation designed to contain a left-leaning Indonesia.

Long relegated to the history books, the Konfrontasi has leapt out of their mellowing pages in recent days.

The point about historical analogies, however, is not whether they are right or wrong. If they were wrong, no one would use them.

If they were right, they would be acted upon immediately to prevent history from repeating itself. Neither is the case for the issues being discussed in Asia today.

Rather, the point is that the analogies are plausible. That is why they are drawn. And that is why they need to be taken seriously.

Mr Abe is correct in arguing that economic stakes do not prevent countries from going to war.

Globalisation today has become something of a totem pole, a magical object supposed to preserve peace. But the globalisation that preceded World War I disproves the idea that economic integration prevents war.

The historian Niall Ferguson relates how the first age of globalisation, from 1870 to 1914, was marked by the mobility of commodities, capital and labour, and by ease of communication and travel. Those patterns seem remarkably familiar today.

Yet, even investors, who should be astute enough to recognise the role of non-economic factors in history, ignored warnings of a war among the European great powers. They were caught unprepared by the carnage that followed.

Issues left unresolved by World War I - particularly the economy of defeated Germany - contributed to the onset of World War II.

Here, it surely is churlish of the Philippines to flagellate China as a possible repeat of Germany on the eve of World War II. Unlike Germany then, China today is not a fallen power which had been punished with economic reparations for having provoked World War I.

Consequently, China does not face today what inter-war Germany did: Outrageous inflation and broken national pride, which sought an outlet in economic nationalism at home and military aggression abroad.

China is ideologically indeterminate, being caught between capitalist economics and Leninist politics, but it is not a Nazi state.

However, China's maritime claims do recall the unquiet borders soon overrun by expansionist Germany in World War II.

It would be unwise to deny the prophetic agency of history, revealed in its uncanny ability to repeat itself in the general trend of events, if not in particular developments.

Singapore's tragedy is that it is at the receiving end of others' histories.

Note the breezy dismissiveness with which Indonesians expect Singaporeans to accept the naming of the naval ship after the convicted bombers.

It is as if history does not matter. It is almost as if Sukarno's undeclared war on Malaysia was a contact sport, a match after which the contestants shook hands in the timeless spirit of sportsmanship.

But history does matter. Indeed, the Indonesians themselves have shown how much history matters by naming the ship after the two marines.

Clearly, Indonesians take their history seriously enough to revisit it.

Astonishingly, the argument has been made that Indonesian officials felt naming the ship after the marines would not cause a furore since that chapter was closed.

But were they not turning the pages back by invoking the names of Osman and Harun?

Singaporeans took offence precisely because a national wound had been reinfected, because what they considered to be the past had turned out to be an historical sluice gate that could be opened unilaterally at will.

Have Singaporeans merely a partial right to their own history? One that extends only as far as the amnesia of their neighbours would allow?

It is this asymmetrical relationship, extrapolated from geography to history, that rankles the most in this sordid affair.

Singapore's historical significance is dismissed on account of its size. One way in which Singaporeans can respond to such dismissiveness is by celebrating our own history.

Rather than see Singapore as a product of global history influenced by the major powers - although this is certainly true - it is important to look more deeply within Singapore and identify what makes Singaporeans the people we are.

Then, others are likely to give Singapore's history more respect than they do. In that spirit, Singapore is right in protesting against the naming of the frigate after the marines.

Today will mark the 30th anniversary of Total Defence. It was inaugurated in 1984 to mark the Fall of Singapore to the Japanese on that date in 1942.

It is impossible to ignore the question of whether Europe's past will be Asia's future.

Will the 21st century see in Asia the hubris, miscalculations and folly that led Europe into two world wars and a Cold War in the 20th century?

We should hope not, but pessimism has never hurt realism.

And history provides a constant reminder of the need for realism. Singaporeans who deny history will soon be history.

The writer is a former Straits Times journalist.

Rising Indonesia must show more sensitivity
By Kavi Chongkittavorn, Published The Straits Times, 20 Feb 2014

SINGAPORE’S outrage over Indonesia’s naming of a new frigate KRI Usman Harun is understandable. It also exposes the fragility of the Asean community and its goal of regional integration.

The incident is a reminder that South-east Asian countries should not be complacent about their past – especially regarding incidents involving relations with neighbouring states. If they are, the past can easily usurp the present goodwill and friendship. Such is the case in Singapore-Indonesia relations today.

The dream of one Asean community with 610 million citizens with shared norms and values fulfilling “one community, one vision” is clearly a challenging one to achieve, as two of Asean’s leading members squabble over an unfortunate incident in 1965.

Sadly, Asean members have a propensity to not let go of their unfortunate past. Indeed, there are many potential intra-Asean conflicts that can resurface as a result of past animosities and the legacy of colonialism.

Examples include the Philippine claim to the Malaysian state of Sabah, and the historical animosity between Thailand and Myanmar. Cambodia and Thailand also have a long-running and acrimonious border dispute that involves the area around a 900- year-old Hindu temple.

It is therefore incumbent on Asean leaders to display wisdom to ensure peace and stability within the grouping.

It is nearly 50 years since Indonesian marines Osman Haji Mohammed Ali and Harun Said sneaked into Singapore and placed bombs in the island’s landmark MacDonald House, killing three and injuring 33 people. But the memory on both sides is still fresh. That is why when Indonesia wanted to name the newly renovated 90m warship, military leaders decided on “Usman Harun” to honour their fallen heroes. To Singapore, however, the two were villains.

It is hard to understand Jakarta’s action. Indonesian military leaders must surely have been aware that Singapore would object. Such a provocative decision provides an insight into the psyche and thinking of the powers- that-be in Jakarta.

The 1965 bombing had completely destroyed bilateral ties. Then Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew did not respond to repeated appeals for clemency from President Suharto. Instead, the two Indonesian marines were hanged in October 1968 – ironically 15 months after Asean was established in Bangsaen, Thailand.

It took extraordinary courage for Mr Lee to visit Jakarta in May 1973 and scatter flowers on the graves of the two marines. After that, diplomatic ties were normalised and gradually prospered with growing economic and security cooperation. Singapore depends on Indonesia’s vast natural resources, while Indonesia uses the island as a centre for financial transactions and trade with third countries. The two countries are a driving force in Asean’s solidarity and integration.

This latest development, however, must not be allowed to dent Asean-led schemes that require bilateral cooperation. As the furore dies down, Singapore and Indonesia have to find ways to reconcile quickly. Otherwise, the topic may become excessively politicised. The social media scene in the two countries is certainly hyperactive. In Indonesia, online users have had a lot to say about the incident, suggesting it could become a campaign issue in the upcoming presidential election.

In response to Indonesian action, Singapore’s leaders have resolutely guaranteed their citizens that the little red dot is strong and can defend itself. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has also used his Facebook page to convey his thoughts on national defence and the row. Fortunately, Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugum and his Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa have also maintained excellent relations as they work to mend bilateral ties.

When Asean was founded, it was widely acknowledged that Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, needed to be drawn into the broader South- east Asian community. Former president Suharto knew this and supported Asean’s set-up as a way of building ties with countries like Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines.

As a key member, Indonesia’s subsequent contributions were positive. And after the democratisation process began in earnest following Suharto’s downfall in 1998, Indonesia’s regional and global role increased markedly due to openness and bigger space for freedom of expression.

Indeed, as Indonesia’s democracy gains traction, along with a high global profile, a sense of unease is growing among its neighbours. Quite a few Indonesian leaders have exhibited a big-brother syndrome, reminiscent of past desires to ganyang (crush) the nation’s enemies. Of late, its social media has been flooded with this kind of patriotism directed against Indonesia’s neighbours, including Malaysia and Australia.

Indonesian security leaders must learn from past lessons that their ties with Singapore and other Asean neighbours are extremely important. Singapore in particular is one of the prime movers of community-building in Asean. Good relations between Singapore and Indonesia should serve as a testimony to the grouping’s resilience in accommodating the common interests of small and big members.

As the biggest Asean member and an active regional player, Indonesia needs to be more sensitive and humble towards smaller nations.

The writer is assistant group editor of Nation Media Group in Thailand, which publishes the English-language daily, The Nation. This is a new weekly column focusing on South-east Asian affairs.

* Scattering of flowers wiped the slate clean
Let's focus on the future, not the past, says General Moeldoko, the Indonesian Armed Forces chief, in this article for The Straits Times
Published 20 Feb 2014

FOUR decades ago, on May 28, 1973, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew made a wise decision to visit the Heroes' Cemetery in Kalibata, South Jakarta. He scattered flowers on the graves of two Indonesian Marine Corps soldiers, Osman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said.

Five years earlier, on Oct 17, 1968, Osman and Harun were hanged by the Singapore Government. They had caused an explosion at MacDonald House, Orchard Road, on March 10, 1965. The explosion took the life of innocent civilians and, before their execution, both Osman and Harun asked to meet the family of the deceased to seek their forgiveness.

The Osman and Harun episode must be viewed from the perspective of Konfrontasi, not merely as one caused by the Cold War, which was splitting the world into two opposing camps, but also as a problem faced by two loyal servants of a country that wanted to establish its presence in the wider world. Their emotional reaction was a response to the inflammatory situation in which they found themselves.

The loss of civilian lives was indeed regrettable but on May 28, 1973, the founding father of Modern Singapore, Mr Lee, rose above the pain inflicted on Singapore; his action in scattering flowers on their graves allowed bygones to be bygones, accepting Indonesia's decision to elevate the pair to the status of national heroes.

Mr Lee's action also freed him from the shackles of history and enabled him to look to the future as the leader of his country.

If we recall Mr Lee's statesmanlike action at that time, the more recent response from our friends in Singapore to the naming of the Indonesian frigate Usman Harun is all the more surprising. We are now living in the 21st century and to take offence at the naming of a ship after a historical event is considered an inappropriate response from our next-door neighbour.

I firmly believe that war does not represent a failure of diplomacy but of intelligence: Opponents resort to war when they abandon their intelligence apparatus.

Intelligence failures always start from a failure to free oneself from the shackles of history or to appreciate other people or nations. Indonesia is unlikely ever to attack Singapore or any of its other neighbours as it is now a peaceful and stable country. This has become the basis that enables it to stand tall and look after its people.

Furthermore, Indonesia and Singapore are two of the founding members of Asean, which is based on mutual respect, economic and social development, and promoting the culture of member nations. Peace and stability in the region are critical while simultaneously peacefully recognising the cultural differences that may exist between nations.

Asean also provides the means for nations in the region to resolve their differences in peaceful ways while promoting regional development at the same time. It could not have developed the way it has if its members were focused on the past rather than the future.

In Kalibata, then Prime Minister Lee followed a request that came from then President Suharto. At that moment, the two leaders gave us a valuable example to use history wisely to look to the future of our respective nations, and our region.

* Setting record straight on gesture at graves of two marines

I REFER to the opinion piece by Indonesian Armed Forces chief, General Moeldoko ("Scattering of flowers wiped the slate clean"; Thursday).

Gen Moeldoko has mischaracterised both the facts and the principles of this matter. Singapore's position on the naming of the KRI Usman Harun has been clearly laid out by Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen, and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Law K. Shanmugam.

Then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's visit to the graves of the two marines in 1973 did not amount to acceptance of Indonesia's decision to declare the two marines as national heroes.

The two marines were tried in the courts and found guilty of killing and injuring civilians.

The Privy Council in London confirmed the decision and dismissed the appeals by the two men.

As Mr Shanmugam has said, Mr Lee's gesture was made to close a painful chapter in the bilateral relationship. The naming of the Indonesian warship reopened this issue that the two countries had closed.

Indonesia is an important partner of Singapore and we value its friendship and support. We hope it will be possible for us to maintain and strengthen this friendship and cooperation.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa earlier said Jakarta takes this issue "very seriously" and there is no "ill-will" or "malice". This is a step in the right direction and Singapore welcomes his comments.

Teo Lay Cheng (Ms)
Director, Public Affairs Directorate for Permanent Secretary (Foreign Affairs)
ST Forum, 22 Feb 2014

The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2014

FOR the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Konfrontasi was a violent and wrenching chapter in Singapore’s history.

The Indonesian armed forces targeted non-military installations and defenceless civilians in Singapore from 1963 to 1965. In all, at least 58 people were killed or injured by the 37 bombs set off. Great suffering was inflicted on the victims and their families. The MacDonald House bomb blast killed three civilians and injured at least 33 more.

They bear the physical and psychological scars of that tragedy to this day. Elizabeth Choo’s six children became orphans, Juliet Goh’s parents lost their only child, and Encik Yasin left behind a widow and eight children.

The naming of an Indonesian navy ship after Osman and Harun now, nearly 50 years later, would undo the conciliatory actions from both sides that had lain to rest this dark historical episode.

It would reopen old wounds. The Singapore Government was therefore deeply concerned when we received news of the naming and reacted immediately, instinctively. Three ministers, including Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, telephoned our counterparts. My counterpart, the Indonesian Defence Minister, was in Europe on an official trip and it was 8am there when I called him. I would not have disturbed his trip unless it was an important matter and (he) knew it. I stated the Government’s position, followed up with a written note, so that there would be no misunderstanding about our deep concern.

All three ministers respectfully asked... on behalf of the Singapore Government, that Indonesia reconsider the name of the ship. We knew the harm it would cause to bilateral relations.

We want good bilateral defence ties with Indonesia and have worked hard to develop our friendship and military cooperation. DPM Teo related to me how he had taken part in the first-ever naval exercise with the Indonesians in 1974, Exercise Eagle, after President Suharto’s visit to Singapore.

Military-to-military relations since then have improved considerably. Two years ago, the SAF celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Indonesia-Singapore Coordinated Patrols where we jointly protect the waters of both countries from sea robbery.

In times of need, both militaries quickly stepped up to help each other. When SilkAir Flight MI 185 crashed near Palembang in December 1997, Indonesia spared no effort in the search and rescue operations; when the Indian Ocean tsunami struck Aceh in 2004, the SAF was the first on the ground to assist Indonesia with its largest disaster assistance relief effort ever.

Such reciprocal support and close cooperation based on mutual respect strengthen defence ties when Indonesia and Singapore treat each other as sovereign equals. With closer ties, the (Indonesian military) and the SAF have been able to discuss sensitive matters, sometimes behind closed doors, to find amicable solutions. Where there are disagreements, we find ways to put them on hold until conditions improve to settle them.

But the naming of the ship came as an utter surprise. Mindef and the SAF were disappointed and dismayed over this inexplicable move. Even without ill intent, how can the naming of the ship after two bombers build good ties, or enhance mutual respect and regard with both our countries?

On the contrary, a ship named “Usman Harun” sailing on the high seas would unearth all the pain and sorrow caused by the MacDonald House bomb blast, which had been buried and put to rest. It would be a bete noire, unleashing resentful feelings and spirits from the past, a constant reminder of the military aggression and atrocious crimes committed by the Indonesian marines who killed or irreparably damaged the lives of innocent civilians and their families in Singapore. For Singaporeans, this is the weight of the dark history of Konfrontasi – of lives tragically cut short, the suffering and blighted futures of hapless victims – that this ship will always carry with her.

Singapore will not allow this military ship named “Usman Harun” to call at our ports and naval bases. It would not be possible for the SAF, as protectors of this nation, to sail alongside or exercise with this ship.

As DPM Teo, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and I have said to our counterparts, the naming of this ship will have consequences on bilateral relations. Already, suspicions and resentments have heightened on both sides, setting back many decades of relationship-building in defence ties.

We want good defence ties and close military-to-military relationships with Indonesia. But strong defence ties can be built only on mutual trust and respect, expressed through appropriate acts that underscore friendship and amity.

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