Confrontation and the Singapore Story

Singapore has stuck to its narrative that it is in a neighbourhood where friends can turn hostile overnight. Malaysia threatening to cut the water supply from Johor to Singapore, a constant threat by UMNO and its proxies from the 60s until recent years when we showed signs of water self-sufficiency. Indonesia revisiting its Konfrontasi days if there was a regime change, especially when Habibie came to power in 1998.

Without doubt the Singapore narrative was politicised to root Singapore, to rally Singaporeans.  Although it was not to scare the populace into backing the PAP, but to enlighten the populace into backing the state. The state of Singapore which would be 50 years old next year. However, the narrative is not all fiction or a creation myth. It is built upon hard facts from history, and as the saying goes, history repeats itself. That is human nature and the fact of geopolitics in this region.

While Indonesia has the right of sovereignty, Singapore should not relent in criticising Indonesia’s action to name its ship after two terrorists who went after easy civilian kills.

Singaporeans should not forget that Indonesia conducted a terror and guerrilla campaign to “crush Malaysia” and there were also numerous bombings in Singapore during Confrontation and our troops were also  involved in skirmishes with Indonesian infiltrators in peninsular Malaysia.

1965 bombing still stains relations between Singapore and Indonesia
Thursday, 13 February, 2014, 9:44pm
Satish Cheney in Singapore

Jakarta’s insistence on naming a warship after two marines who bombed Singapore in 1965 has re-opened old wounds, analysts say

It’s a diplomatic row that stretches back half a century, tainting Singapore-Indonesia relations with memories of a bomb, bloodshed and executions.

Now the notorious Orchard Road blast of 1965 is back in the spotlight, thanks to Jakarta’s decision this month to name a warship after the bombers, who were a pair of undercover Indonesian marines.

Political experts believe the recently reopened wounds are unlikely to spur physical confrontation or economic fallout – but caution that they may continue to fester, especially since neither side feels it can afford to appear weak in a region with a history of strife.

Indonesia is already preoccupied with an upcoming election, and has major differences with Australia over asylum seekers and allegations of spying. Jakarta might have to engage in some delicate diplomacy with Singapore, especially since it is the wealthy city state’s third largest trade partner.

The problems began after Jakarta officials confirmed they will name a navy vessel “KRI Usman- Harun” after Usman Haji Mohamed Ali and Harun Said – the two marines who bombed an office building in Singapore’s main shopping district on March 10, 1965.

The explosion left three dead and 33 injured. The two marines, who were acting under orders, were convicted and hanged three years later by Singapore authorities. But they were hailed as heroes back home in Indonesia, where there were protests over their executions.

Personal calls from Singapore ministers to their Indonesian counterparts to reconsider the naming – and spare a thought for the families of the victims of the bombing – failed to break the diplomatic impasse.

Political analysts say Singapore, which will be celebrating its 50th anniversary of independence next year, will not let the matter rest.

“The political terrain in Singapore has changed and Singapore leaders cannot be seen to be lax in handling an issue that touches a raw nerve for many Singaporeans,” said Dr Mohamed Nawab, an expert in Indonesian and Malaysian politics and foreign policy at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. “I think relations in the long term are likely to be affected unless the Indonesian government apologises for its current actions.”

Naming the warship KRI Usman-Harun (right) after the bombers has sparked Singapore protests.The bomb blast was part of the then Indonesian president Sukarno’s policy of konfrontasi (confrontation) against the Federation of Malaysia which formed in September 1963.

Sukarno was against the idea of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah joining to form the federation, which he felt would only serve British interests as a puppet state.

Sukarno’s regime sent groups of saboteurs to the federation to create trouble. Numerous bombs that were set off in Singapore, but most were minor compared to the Orchard Road attack.

Relations between the two nations improved only after Singapore’s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, visited Jakarta and scattered flowers at the graves of the two marines in 1973 following much careful consideration by Singapore.

Amid the current spat, Singapore cancelled invitations to the Indonesian Navy chief and some 100 Indonesian delegates to attend the Singapore Airshow. Other Indonesian military leaders then pulled out.

Speculation is rife about why Indonesia would want to revisit old wounds.

Mohamed Nawab said: “Politicians in Indonesia have often used Singapore and Malaysia as whipping boys to enhance their nationalist credentials.

“Given that the coming election is likely to be a tough one for the Partai Demokrat [The Democratic Party led by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono], they are using this issue for their political purposes. It is likely to be driven by political expediency on the part of the current leadership that is fully cognizant of the Indonesian people’s nationalist fervour,” he said.

Observers say both sides will eventually move on.

“In fact, the nature of the spat is far less serious than allegations from last year that Singapore helped the United States and Australia tap telephone conversations by senior Indonesian officials,” said assistant professor Ja Ian Chong from the National University of Singapore. “If Singapore and Jakarta were able to overcome the flap from last year, I am confident that relations will be able to weather the current furore.”

Documents leaked by American whistleblower Edward Snowden last year alleged that Singapore was involved in US-led spying operations of countries in the region including Indonesia and Malaysia.

Meanwhile, Singapore has raised concerns over possible haze covering the island next week due to forest fires in Indonesia.

The fires and the smog have been an annual issue. Last year, the amount of pollution hit record levels with the city skyline barely visible for a few days.

In a Facebook post, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan had said: “We will try to encourage them to take action – but we all know the welfare of close neighbours is not their priority.”


7 responses

  1. The Indonesian Confrontasi Campaigns were terribly real and horribly carried out ,just on the basis that the Premier of a Singapore being a Nanyang Chinese has more in common with Australians and the British of the WWII a when the Japs took particular and partisan Joy in helping the Indonesians as potentially co- partners in the Pan Asian Co -Prosperity common market and union of Asia for Asians ! Their Surrender after the end of WWII didn’t allow the feelings of shared comradeship against the business sophisticated Chinese Diadpora within Indonesia and in Nanyang ! So it was no big secret when the First Premier Lee Kuan Yew, Harry to the Australians and British took in Israeli Commanders in the initial training of our Singapore Armed Forces personnel as he saw Singapore being like Little Israel surrounded by Islamic Arabian Neighbors that are culturally and politicallly hostile in the real body politics !the same feelings of hostility were engendered after the break up of Merger and the political ascendancy and arrival of the Ketuanaan Melayu Bangsa Hanya of the village Dr.Mahathir Mohamed who was a particularly a superlative Ultra of the Primacy of Malay Rights ! all they wanted Lee Kuan Yew to have in Merger Malaysia was to be thrown out into the United Nations Plaza as Malaysian Permanent Ambassador and ” don’t bother to return ” to Nanyang and probably Singapore would be redubbed Sri Temasek !

    Gerald C W Heng Sr.
    Washingtone DC
    & Metrowest Boston,MA.USA.

    February 14, 2014 at 10:10 am

  2. keokk

    FYI, the naming of our warship is not a provocation, it is indeed a partial measured response for Sing’s long-time INSENSITIVE attitude toward us: housing corrupt fugitives, dismissing extradition agreement, recent espionage etc, to name the few. Please try introspect. So, we don’t feel the need to change the name (and alas, USman Harun are our heroes, we are proud of them,.) Indonesians has been patient enough with Sing. ANd now this is only the beginning of our response. I hope there won’t be war. But believe me, here, in Indonesia, there are so many people willing to die to defend the honor of red and white flag. Maybe you will call them insane, crazy, illogical nuts or whatever. WHY? Hi Singaporeans, in Indonesia you will not see the ‘nationalism as usual’. Please take a close look: the red color in our flag is DEFINITELY BLOOD RED, not pinky or some-cheerful red. IT IS OUR OWN EXISTENCE. So, no surprise, we never think twice in giving our own blood and bones to our Indonesia. Remember? In the battle of Soerabaia we used bamboo to fight the tanks and bombs, and we NEVER NEVER hesitate. You know what I mean. So, Singaporean, don’t play fool, don’t make mess with Indonesians. We are smiling nations, but sometimes we play really really crazy. Yeah. Just imagine what to do when youre facing crazy mobs. They can do anything impossible. YEaaah. US UK dare to come to you? So Russky, China readily bring us refreshment too. YEaaah so nice. World War III begin form Malaka Strait, eh?

    February 15, 2014 at 2:18 am

    • Your Response my friend is Running Amok ! The Confrontasi on north Borneo has been resolved by a People ‘s Referendum of the region and Honored by the Security Council of the United Nations with a membership of over 150 nations of which Indonesia is one !its media folly to name war-ships after your failed Confrontasi Campaign ,it’s not only aggressively provocative it’s totally stupid for friendly relations of nations within ASEAN !

      Why don’t you get the equivalent of your Bung Soekarno back to give three to four hours Indonesian theatre oratory to name Usman and Harun as heroes in some other venue within Indonesia than War Ships it’s not compatible with international courtesy, and comity of nations in world peace !

      Gerald Heng Sr.
      Washingtone DC USA
      Et Metrowest Boston,Massachusetts.

      February 15, 2014 at 5:14 am

    • chemgen

      keokk – While Indonesians think Singapore is insensitive, Singaporeans also think Indonesians are not good neighbours at times e.g. calling Singapore a Little Red Dot, the annual haze. Yet Singapore was there with Flying Eagle when Indonesia needed help quickly. I’m not sure who is the more insensitive and ungrateful one if Indonesia can provocatively name a ship after 2 terrorists who attacked civilians in Singapore in an undeclared and even more so illegal war.

      February 19, 2014 at 10:00 am

  3. Envy is the name of game in national politics,especially if a small city country like Singapore unexpectedly do well economically after fifty years of being booted out of Malaysia and being a Chinese Diadpora Descendants City all the more make the Envy unbearable like the Germans on their Jewish people trading in their towns and in WWII the Jewish people being massacred by gas is now historically known as the Jewish Holocaust ! in Indonesia during bung Soekarno ‘s time there were thousands of Chinese Indonesians murdered and maimed and ordered to leave for China , only China ‘sPremier Zhou Enlai
    Intervention by global expose made the Indonesians stopped and behaved themselves ,it was in the 1960 ‘s and terribly tragic’ and horrible to the Chinese Indonesians ! We pray and hope it won’t happen again !

    Gerald Heng Sr.
    Washingtone DC
    & Metrowest Boston,MA,

    February 19, 2014 at 10:46 am

  4. chemgen

    Gerald, unfortunately for the Indonesian Chinese, the scapegoat and easy targets there, May 1998 Jakarta riots was proof that history can repeat itself. You are right that it is envy at a small state’s success, and also playground politics that the bigger kid thinks he gets to push about all he wants.

    February 24, 2014 at 9:02 am

  5. Very tragic and sad indeed,we should be able to complain to the United Nations of such Hate Speech and abusive behavior !just few weeks ago China has produced Records of the Japanese Rapes of Nanjing of massacres and murders including maimings for the UN archives as testaments of recent Atrocities in National History ! the Indonesian Chinese too can do this as a Warning to Indonesia that it can’t get away with murders and personal abuses !

    Gerald Heng Sr.
    Washingtone DC
    & Metrowest Boston,MA.

    February 24, 2014 at 10:41 am

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