Indonesian news magazines go big on bilateral spat

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Feb 20, 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.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Feb 20, 2014

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