In recent article in The Diplomat, Assistant Professor Kai He wrote about the East China Sea Dispute : What do China and Japan really want? In it, he suggests that it is about managing their domestic expectations that leaders on both China and Japan’s side embark on their current hard stances. It also argues that if US wants to maintain the stability in East China Sea, it needs to understand what the two leaders need in face of their domestic audience.
In recent events closer to home, the Indonesian Navy named two of their frigates after two marines who bombed Singapore’s McDonald’s House in 1965. Both marines were captured and executed by the Singapore government back then. In order to sooth relations, Singapore’s then PM Lee KY visited their graves in 1973. In naming the two frigates after their heroes, the Indonesian government opened up new wounds again in the bilateral relationships with Singapore. What can the reason be? It could be, similar to China and Japan’s leaders’ case, a need to appeal to their domestic population. Naming after the ships after their heroes is a way to remind the Indonesian people that they are still the big boys in the neighborhood and do not need to worry about the smaller fishes. It also instill pride in their nation, causing the population to remember that their independence was won by blood and struggle, something that the newer generation of Indonesian may not remember. After all, their motto of Pancasila was to unite their diverse people under the same Indonesian flag. In the absence of a real enemy, it is always an old trick to dig up some old “safe” conflict to unite under again.
Singaporeans should also likewise remember that our independence and current economic prosperity were not given freely to our fathers. While PM Lee honors the pioneer generation now, it is for a good reason. It is on their blood and toil that we have the current status as the hub of Southeast Asia. Too many of our current generation are taking it for granted.
That being said, we should not take the naming of the two vessels too seriously. It is, as mentioned, probably a gimmick to stir up some excitement as the current Indonesian government heads into their next election in April 2014. Just as we had suffered indignities during Malaysian’s election previously, we may have to be the bogeyman for Indonesia, albeit in a much more distance way. Just wait till they start accusing Singapore of being a tax heaven for their rich citizen or stealing their soil again….