On learning that Indonesia had named a frigate KRI Usman Harun after the two Indonesian marines Usman Mohd Ali and Harun Said who were executed after being convicted of setting off a bomb at MacDonald House in Singapore that killed three people and injured 33 others in 1965, Singapore leaders called their Indonesian counterparts.
Minister for Foreign Affairs K Shanmugam spoke to his Indonesian counterpart to register Singapore's concerns and the impact it would have on the feelings of Singaporeans, especially the families of the victims.
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen spoke to their respective Indonesian counterparts.
Indonesia's reply was that its navy had the authority to name the frigates and had considered in a mature way the paying of tribute to its heroes, so that they were immortalised on its warships.
As former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew put it:
We are not vulnerable? They can besiege you. You'll be dead. Your sea lanes are cut off and your business comes to a halt. What is our reply? Security Council, plus defence capabilities of our own, plus the Security Framework Agreement with the Americans.
They stopped [selling] sand [to us]. Why? To conscribe us. As [former Malaysian Prime Minister] Mahathir [Mohamad] says, 'Even at their present size they are trouble; you let them grow some more, they will be more trouble'.
We've got friendly neighbours? Grow up."
Did the Singapore Government call up the Indonesian ambassador to protest?
Will the Singapore Government continue to bestow the Pingat Jasa Gemilang (Tentera), or Meritorious Service Medal (Military), on Indonesian military chiefs who were involved in naming the frigate?
And what about the Singapore public? Indonesians must wonder whether the Singapore Government is speaking for Singaporeans. Does it seem that Singaporeans care? No protests at the Indonesian embassy (for the avoidance of doubt, I am not advocating one, which is unlawful). No protest note to the Indonesian ambassador. No protest at Hong Lim. No boycott of Indonesian goods. No cancelling of holidays in Indonesia.
Perhaps, Singaporeans have taken to the extreme Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's advice to deal with provocations in a civil, patient and tolerant manner, holding a stand, but remaining civilised human beings.
If we don't proudly and fearlessly defend our position irrespective of economic cost, we will be treated with irrelevance and contempt.
Perhaps, we can and should learn something from some East Asian countries — their governments and their people — on how to respond to external provocation.
1. LEE KUAN YEW Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going — Interview The Straits Times16 Jan 2011.
2. PM Lee Cautions Against Lynch Mob Mentality TODAY 29 Jan 2014.