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Name Calling

Singapore Indonesian Diplomatic Relations Turn Sour. Will Tourism be Affected?

(2/16/2014) Singapore-Indonesian relations are going through a rough patch at present with leaders from both nations giving each other the cold shoulder.

Whether relations will decline further and be felt in tourist visits between the countries remains to be seen.

Singapore arrivals to Bali ranks as the 5th most important source of foreign visitors totaling 138,388 visitors to Bali in 2013, an increase of 14.39% over 2012. Meanwhile, Indonesia is the largest source of tourism visitors to the Island Republic.

The current ill will in Indonesian-Singapore relations quite literally relates to "name calling" - the Indonesian decision to name a new naval frigate the Usman Harum  in recognition of two Indonesian military offices who were hung in 1968 by Singapore for the bombing of a business place in Singapore on March 10, 1965, that left 3 dead and 33 injured.

The bombing took place in the waning days of the Soekarno regime and its “konfrontasi” opposition to the short-lived unification of Malaysia and Singapore.

The two marines sent to perform the bombing are seen as “heroes” in Indonesia and buried side-by-side at the Kalibata National Heroes Cemetery. Oblivious to the fundamental shift in power and idealogiy underway in Jakarta at the time, Singapore steadfastly refused repeated pleas for clemency from Indonesia’s “New Order” leaders and hung the two men on October 17, 1968.

The resulting period of chilly relations between Singapore and Indonesia only turned a new page four years later in 1972 when Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, on an official visit to Indonesia, paused to pay respects at the graves of the two men in Jakarta.

Singapore’s current indignation with Indonesia’s decision to name a ship after two men seen as terrorist by Singaporeans, has seen public statements of protest emanate from Singapore, the indignant “unfriending” on Facebook by Singapore’s Prime Minister of Indonesian President Yudhoyono, and a formal notice from Singapore's Armed Forces that the Usman Harun would never be allowed to sail in Singapore waters.

Indonesian military circles have responded, scolding Singapore, saying how Indonesia decides to honor fallen heroes was an entirely domestic concern.

In what may been an ill-considered step by Singapore to demonstrate its indignation with Indonesia, an invitation to General Moeldoko, Commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces and a following contingent of 100 officers to the Singapore Air Show was abruptly withdrawn by Singapore authorites,

Later, Singapore on reconsideration renewed their invitation to Moeldoko who responded by saying if his men weren’t welcome in Singapore, then he had no intention of accepting Singapore's on-again-off-again invitation to the Internaitonal Air Show.

Moeldoko also took the opportunity to explain to Singapore, via statements made to the press, that Indonesia had no desire to reopen old wounds in naming the new frigate Usman-Harun, but at the same time viewed Singapore’s reaction of withdrawing invitations to 100 of his officer to the Singapore Air Show as an over-reaction.

It now remains to be seen when relations between Singapore and Indonesia will once again thaw and if current animosities will affect two-way tourism flows, and which side will make the first steps towards rapprochement.