What prompted the Indonesian navy to name a warship after two marines hanged in Singapore for killing innocent civilians here a long time ago is hard to fathom.
Such a brutal act flies in the face of established international law and generally accepted civilised conduct.
How this could be deemed “heroic” is baffling. What is clear is that Indonesian officials are not taking adequate account of the public outrage the navy’s action has caused.
An insensitive act which could have been contained through neighbourly consultation is developing into a diplomatic quarrel neither country wants. This is indicated in the absence, through mutual pique, of an Indonesian military delegation at the Singapore Airshow where defence discussions take place.
Most telling is that a large number of Singapore ministers have spoken out, some in unusually strong language. The message sent is unequivocal: Bilateral relations are too important to be trifled with through acts of carelessness; and Singapore acts decisively to defend itself against incursions and terrorist acts.
Indonesia regards the marines who bombed MacDonald House as “heroes” for carrying out orders. It is free, of course, to honour its citizens in an appropriate manner. But the history and circumstances of events and personalities cited for memorialisation need to be weighed objectively.
The 1965 attack occurred during Confrontation, President Sukarno’s ill-judged armed response to the formation of Malaysia which included Singapore. There were many terrorist incursions, with all of Malaya and Singapore placed on the defensive. Indonesian officials who liken these acts to those of nationalists fighting Dutch colonisation of their country are cherry-picking its history.
They dishonour themselves. Indonesia of all countries should know what it takes to contend with organised terror, and understand the pain that families of its victims have to endure.
Singapore-Indonesia relations had their rocky patches during the Sukarno and Habibie presidencies but improved thereafter, to reach peaks of cordial and constructive dealings under Suharto and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. A new president will be elected this year.
Ties should be nurtured as Indonesia, as an essential part of Asean and a rising economic power, will gain from goodwill in the neighbourhood. This will not just propel its growth but promote its standing. Higher councils in Jakarta ought to steer relations back towards the path of accommodation with mutual respect as the watchword.
Good neighbours should never place allies in the position of having to decide on visitation rights for a navy ship bearing names that rake up a painful past.