The word is Indonesian officials have “skipped” the Singapore Airshow but the reality is Jakarta has initiated a boycott as tensions between the two countries are again exacerbated, this time after the Indonesians named a naval ship after two marines who planted bombs on the island state.
Usman Ali and Harun Said were convicted and executed for the March 1965 bombing by Singaporean authorities during the Konfrontasi initiated by Indonesia’s then leader Sukarno against the expanding Federation of Malaysia, which included Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore.
The pair were hanged in Singapore and given a state funeral in Indonesia.
Three people were killed and another 33 wounded in the blast at MacDonald House, which occurred when Singapore was a part of the Malaysian federation and targeted by Sukarno.
Much of these events had been consigned to history until Indonesian military leaders recently decided to name a vessel the Usman-Harun, sparking anger in Singapore where officials described the decision as insensitive, particularly in regards to the families of the victims.
“I am disappointed with the Indonesian decision to name their new warship after the two convicted ex-marines,” Singapore’s second minister for defense and a former army chief, Chan Chun Sing said, adding Indonesia should not “reopen old wounds.”
Relations between the two countries have been tested over the past year by the spreading of acrid smog from burning off in Indonesia and claims that Singapore had helped countries like Australia to spy on Indonesia.
Defense ministry officials and senior brass were expected to attend the world-renowned airshow, but apparently decided to skip it, notifying organizers with a simple text message that scheduled meetings on the sidelines of the event were cancelled.
The airshow began today and ends Sunday.
According to a Reuters report, Singapore government ministers contacted their Indonesian counterparts asking them to reconsider the ship’s name, saying they believed the matter was closed when then-Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew scattered flowers on the marines’ graves in 1973.
The MacDonald House bombing was the worst of 29 bombs planted by Indonesian saboteurs in Singapore. It was detonated inside a branch of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, now HSBC. The building also housed the Australian High Commission and the Japanese Consulate.
No war was ever declared between the two countries but the bombings had become so frequent in the early and mid 1960s that Singapore established a volunteer force of 10,000 people to combat the insurgency.
Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter @lukeanthonyhunt
*As discussed in the comments below, some media reports have noted that Singapore canceled the invites of 100 lower-lever Indonesian officers, with senior Indonesian officials then deciding not to attend.