Indonesia's military chiefs snub Singapore Airshow

Indonesia's TNI-AU Jupiter Aerobatic Team perform at a media preview for the Singapore Airshow.

Story highlights

  • Indonesia's top military brass confirm absence from Singapore Airshow
  • Snub is part of an escalation of tensions over warship naming
  • Singapore had previously rescinded the invitations of around 100 Indonesian military personnel
  • Airshow will run from February 11 - 16

Singapore's escalating dispute with its neighbor Indonesia over the naming of a warship has led to a series of tit-for-tat snubs involving the city's airshow, which is being held this week.

Lieutenant-General (Retired) Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin, Indonesia's deputy defense minister, alongside the chiefs of the country's three main military branches, will not be attending the Singapore Airshow, which begins Tuesday, in a form of diplomatic protest. Sjafrie also canceled other engagements in the city.

The withdrawal comes after Singapore rescinded the invitations of around 100 members of Indonesia's military hierarchy.

The snub was a response to Indonesia's decision to name a warship after two marines who were tried and convicted of blowing up a bank in Singapore in 1965 during the conflict known as the Konfrontasi, between Indonesia and Malaysia, of which Singapore was a part at the time. The attack killed three and injured 33.

The decision to name a naval frigate the KRI Usman Harun, after Sergeants Usman Haji Mohamed Ali and Harun Said, has angered the city-state, which says that it reflects a lack of sensitivity and respect for mutual ties.

The marines were executed in Singapore. Their remains were repatriated and, the pair were lauded as heroes, as they were buried with full honors. The matter was thought to be put to bed when Singapore's then-President Lee Kuan Yew scattered petals on the Indonesian soldiers' graves in 1973.

"I am disappointed with the Indonesian decision to name their new warship after the two convicted ex-marines," said Chan Chun Sing, Singapore's Second Minister for Defence, said in an official Ministry release.

    "I am also disappointed with the reactions of the Indonesian leaders who have spoken on this issue thus far.

    "The [Indonesian leaders'] statements reflected either a lack of sensitivity, a lack of care for the bilateral ties, or both."

    Indonesia has stuck by its naming decisions, with officials saying that the practice of naming naval vessels after heroes is commonplace.

    Chan added, "I hope the Indonesian leaders will not sacrifice our bilateral relations, so carefully built up, to domestic politics or through carelessness."

    Indonesia's defense ministry confirmed the officials' non-attendance on Sunday, Defense News reported.

    "The visit by senior TNI [Indonesian National Armed Forces] officers, military chiefs of staff and TNI commander to Singapore has been canceled," the ministry said a statement.

    The journal added that an Indonesian aerobatic team would still perform at the show.

    Despite differences, including protests against an annual forest burn conducted by the larger country, which affects air quality in Singapore, the two countries enjoy a full diplomatic relationship and have strong commercial ties. Indonesia is Singapore's third-largest individual trading partner.

    The Singapore Airshow, set to be the biggest to date officially opened on Monday evening and events will run from February 11 to 16.