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An ill wind blows this way…

There’s an ill wind blowing this way but it’s not bearing anyone any ill will…Ooops! Did I just get stuff mixed up? Anyway,  the point of origin is Indonesia.

So there Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty blows…when Indonesia named the frigate after the two MacDonald House bombers, there was no ill inent, no malice. That’s what he said at what ST described as a “hastily-called’’ press conference for Singapore media. Seems like the little red dot screamed loud enough for those in charge of diplomacy to hear. Would that we could hear from its armed forces too…

But what does no malice intended mean? I can think of a couple of things. First, the naming was an “oversight’’ by uninformed, clueless bureaucrats who had no idea that it would disappoint and even anger, Singapore. Second, that they thought it was no big deal anyway since it happened 50 years ago, so why not just go ahead? Third, Indonesia really, really had no more “heroes’’ it can name the frigate after…

Maybe there are other reasons. Some faction somewhere wants to re-open old wounds to test the limits of Singapore’s patience, and slipped the naming of the frigate under the radar. Very good radar since they decided on the name in December 2012…  

Maybe they figure that Singapore would roll over and play dead, thereby confirming the little red dot’s impotence in the face of a mighty neighbour. Maybe they didn’t figure that there were so many economic links between the two : Singapore provides the most number of visitors to Indonesia, and it’s second biggest investor after Japan.  Maybe they figured that Singapore needed Indonesia more than Indonesia needed Singapore  – and realised otherwise?  Or maybe they figured that Indonesians needed a nice rallying point ahead of the presidential elections.

After all, what would Singapore do? Burn the Indonesian flag? Tis not in our DNA. Organise a boycott of Indonesian imports? But then again, Indonesia has to remember that its rich elite shop here and receive medical attention here while quite a big number of its own compatriots work here. At the end of the day, it makes no sense to strain economic and people ties, not even for political ends.

Anyway, all is speculation and despite rambunctious noises from some parts of the Indonesian media, we have to take what its foreign minister said as the position of the Indon Government.

What’s good is that the event has given Singaporeans a good history lesson. It flummoxed a lot of people to know that there were at least 42 explosions in Singapore during the Kronfontasi period. The MSM has been assiduous in recounting the past and even getting a family member of one the three dead Singaporeans to talk.

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I, for one, do not recall any history lesson on this period and it’s a bet that my generation, which is really not very young, have no deep understanding or even information drummed into us.  

What now? It’s not likely that the Indons will re-name the frigate because it is really still their sovereign right to name anything after anyone. So if no ill will is intended, what about showing some good will?

And here, I’m referring to that unwanted visitor whose invitation we cannot cancel – the haze. According to the National Environment Agency (NEA) website, 458 hotspots were detected yesterday, with more than half  of these in the Riau province. That’s more than double the 187 detected on Monday. The only thing saving Singapore is that the wind is blowing the dust away, at least for the next two weeks. After that, how?

Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan made some very pointed remarks in his Facebook post warning of the impending ill wind: “We will try to encourage them to take action – but we all know the welfare of close neighbours is not their priority.’’


Despite so many meetings and agreements, there’s been “a lack of movement’’ on the Asean Haze Monitoring System, as Singapore’s Foreign Minister K Shanmugam noted last month.

If Indonesia really wants to show good will, it should get a move on dousing or damping the flames. And you know what? It’ll do their own people some good too.


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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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