Thursday 20 February 2014

Singapore won't allow Indonesian ship Usman Harun to call at its ports

By Monica Kotwani, Channel NewsAsia, 18 Feb 2014

Singapore will not allow the Indonesian warship, named after the MacDonald House bombers, to call at its ports and naval bases.

Nor would the Singapore Armed Forces carry out military exercises with the ship.

This was when Indonesia launched an "undeclared war" to oppose the creation of Malaysia, which included Singapore.

But it was the MacDonald House bombing by two Indonesian marines in 1965 that sealed the memory of the dark period for Singaporeans.

Three people were killed and 33 others injured.

The two marines, Usman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said, were found guilty and hanged in 1968.

Despite pleas for clemency from then Indonesian President Suharto, Singapore went ahead with the hanging.

He said: "Had we agreed to release them, it would have set the precedent for our relationships with all bigger countries. That we will - or we should - do what a bigger country asks and pressures us to do even when we have been grievously hurt.

"That is a different concept of sovereignty that is not good for us, which we cannot accept."

Relations between the two countries were tense until then Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew visited Indonesia in 1973 and scattered flowers on the graves of the two marines.

Both countries had considered the matter closed, so Dr Ng said it came as an "utter surprise" when Indonesia decided to name one of its warships after the two marines, nearly 50 years later.

He said the ship sailing the high seas would always carry the suffering and "blighted" futures of the victims.

Dr Ng said: "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.

"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."

Dr Ng said bilateral defence ties between the two countries have grown since 1974.

He cited examples of how Indonesia went all out in search and rescue operations when the SilkAir Flight MI185 crashed in Palembang in 1997. And the Singapore Armed Forces were the first on the ground to help Indonesia during the 2004 tsunami.

But the latest incident has set ties back.

Dr Ng said: "We want good bilateral military relations and we have to take it from there -- to rebuild the mutual regard, the mutual respect that we've taken 40 years to reach here.

"It has set us back and I would say that over the next period we will see what we can do to rebuild ties, but it also depends on what both parties do."

MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC Zaqy Mohamad asked how MFA is prepared to deal with such tests of potential provocation from bigger countries willing to test Singapore as a young and small nation.

Mr Shanmugam replied: "As we go forward, we must fully expect that others who progress will indeed seek to move us and our policies towards that direction. It's not just the region but beyond the region -- everyone.

"And to deal with that, you need to look at it on three levels. At the core, our defence has to be top rate. If we cannot protect ourselves, nothing else matters.

"Beyond that, you need to make sure that your regional relationships, both bilaterally as well as multilaterally, through organisations like ASEAN, (are) strong -- so that you can deal with issues both diplomatically, both bilaterally, as well as through regional platforms which help move everyone along.

"Thirdly, at the larger level, you do need therefore, a very strong network of international partners beyond the region."

To survive in such a climate, Mr Shanmugam said it is also about ensuring Singapore is successful economically, socially and in defence.

What Singapore needs to hold its own
By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2014

FOREIGN Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday spelt out the factors that are crucial if Singapore is to hold its own and survive among bigger neighbours.

These are: be successful economically, have a strong defence force, maintain strong ties with its neighbours and be backed by a strong network of international partners.

The issue, Mr Shanmugam added, is not new.

"As we go forward, we must fully expect that others who progress will indeed seek to move us and move our policies towards their direction."

Amid this situation, Singapore's defence has to be "top rate", he said. "If we cannot protect ourselves, nothing else matters."

Also, it is important for Singapore to strengthen bilateral ties with countries in the region and multilaterally, through groupings like Asean, to "help move everyone along" on diplomatic issues.

He noted that every country will use all the advantages it has, including size and military might, in negotiations to pursue its interests.

As for Singapore, he said: "We have been able to hold our own, punch well above our weight, simply because we have been faster, skilful and successful. If we were not successful, we would not be having this debate here."

Singapore had pardoned and released 45 Indonesian saboteurs linked to bombings during the Confrontation.

But it could not do the same for the two marines who bombed MacDonald House because civilians were killed and injured.

Doing so would have set a precedent for Singapore's relationships with bigger countries, said Mr Shanmugam.

"That precedent will be that we will or we should do what a bigger country asks us and pressures us to do, even when we have been grievously hurt.

"That is a different concept of sovereignty and that is not good for us, which we cannot accept."

Indonesian news magazines go big on bilateral spat
By Zakir Hussain, The Straits Times, 20 Feb 2014

AT LEAST four weekly news magazines devoted space this week to the bilateral spat between Indonesia and Singapore over the naming of a new Indonesian navy frigate after the two marines responsible for the 1965 Orchard Road bombing.

While all reflected Indonesia’s position and Singapore’s concerns, Forum Keadilan news weekly took a strident tone, displaying photos of marines Osman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said juxtaposed with three new navy ships on its cover, with the words “Ganyang Singapura” (Crush Singapore).

Forum devoted 12 pages to the topic. The tone reflected the strong sentiment that had been brewing on social media and Internet forums in Indonesia since the controversy over the naming of KRI Usman Harun, after the two marines, broke two weeks ago.

Indonesian officials maintained that the decision was in line with the country’s tradition of naming vessels after heroes. This status was accorded to the two marines after they had been hanged in Changi jail in 1968. Forum, which has been adopting a nationalistic stance on various issues, gave its editorial the headline: “Relationship full of thorns”.

Forum’s reports took a critical view of Indonesia-Singapore ties, insinuating that many of the benefits flowed one way. It cited in particular Singapore’s reluctance to extradite corruption suspects.

“Singapore is the second largest investor in Indonesia. It is clear the Indonesian economy depends heavily on its neighbour’s,” it said. “So who benefits the most in Indonesia-Singapore relations? Who most enjoys what is described as a mutual benefit?”

Another Forum report adopted a racial tone: “Singapore is also a tiny ethnic Chinese state that dictates to ethnic Malay countries.

“This country can act arbitrarily because it feels strong. They possess weapons and a defence system far more advanced than the TNI’s (Indonesian Armed Forces),” it added, describing Singapore as a “haven for corruptors”.

Forum chief editor Priyono B. Sumbogo told The Straits Times: “We felt Singapore was excessive in its reaction, and it was right for Indonesia to respond the way it did. It was an issue that touched our sovereignty and dignity as Indonesians. We were reflecting and voicing popular sentiment.”

Forum also carried interviews with Defence Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro, who said the ship will operate in eastern Indonesia, and with the chairman of Parliament’s defence and foreign affairs committee, Mr Mahfudz Siddiq. The latter was quoted as saying Singapore and its allies wanted Indonesia to be weak. Mr Mahfudz added: “Look how easily they can set up banks in Indonesia, when we face so much difficulty even opening an ATM in that country.”

Sindo Weekly took a similarly harsh tone, while Tempo and Gatra magazines reported the exchanges between both sides last week. Tempo revisited its 1973 interview with then Singapore Foreign Minister S. Rajaratnam, reporting him as saying Indonesia’s decision to declare the two marines national heroes was no longer Singapore’s affair. “Why should we be occupied with the past?” it cited him as saying.

Why KRI Usman Harun is not welcome
Editorial The Straits Times, 20 Feb 2014

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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