Row over nosy and noisy neighbours

High Commissioner Ong Keng Yong

What is the brouhaha over three Singaporean diplomats "observing" the Bersih 3.0 protest? It is Saturday, the office is closed. So what better thing to do than observe a sit-in protest.

Heck, they don't have mass protests back home, you know.

After all, the bosses down south insisted "this is part of a diplomat's normal professional diplomatic duties."

In other words, "Go right ahead and collect as much information as possible. What we do with the information, leave it to us."

Just last week, Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman warned foreign diplomats about taking part in Bersih during a luncheon with Asean ambassadors.

It did not take a lot for those present to guess it was directed at Singapore. Many eyes were on High Commissioner Ong Keng Yong to see his reaction. He did not show any.

But a diplomat observed that "Ong seemed to be talking a lot that day."

Officially, no country or name was mentioned but when several blogs named the three Singapore diplomats, it was only natural for the newspapers to pick it up.

Ong's explanation was that the three his deputy Ariel Tan and first secretaries Regina Low and Philomena Aw went in their personal capacities and were not on any official assignment.

After Ong was summoned to Wisma Putra on Friday, the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying its officers attended the rally as "part of their normal professional diplomatic duties.

"They were observers. These are legitimate duties of diplomats to observe political developments in their countries of posting."

A diplomatic observer noted: "Only uneducated Malaysians will swallow what Ong said."

Somehow, the MFA's statement seemed to contradict Ong's remarks. It may be the Singapore way of explaining things, just to get the other side confused.

Malaysia really should not be bothered if diplomats, not only from Singapore but also other countries, merely observe and take notes.

But Malaysia can object if the diplomats pretend to be part of the crowd in order to take notes.

Perhaps, the three Singapore women thought that since they looked like Malaysians, no one would notice them.

They were in for a surprise when they were named in the blogs.

It is a different story over in Jakarta, however. The Mandailing cultural dance is another good issue for Indonesian politicians and media to get their citizens all riled up with Malaysia again.

In Jakarta, "notice" is normally given by the protesters to the Malaysian embassy when they are coming over to protest.

What no one expected was for the 50 or so Pancasila youth to make noise at the embassy and then head over to the new Malaysia Hall building 5km down the road.

The mob ruled the day. There was nothing the three Indonesian security guards could do but watch as their fellow countrymen, carrying stones the size of human heads, damaged the property and attacked one of the guards.

The mob stopped only after their leader told them to do so.

The Malaysian Government should lodge a protest. Our premises were attacked. The host government must increase patrols and beef up security to ensure there's no repeat of Friday's incident.

In Kuala Lumpur, it is fortunate that none of the diplomats as Singapore insisted, diplomats from other countries too attended the rally were injured during the scuffles.

But it is of concern when people start to get injured in Jakarta.

Malaysia should really worry about the safety of its citizens living and visiting Jakarta.

In a city of 14 million people, one Malaysian injured because of protests by the locals may spiral into something bigger. It will be a waste as the governments of both Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak have been trying hard to manage good bilateral relations.

As for Singapore, the latest revelation came at a sensitive time.

Whether this Bersih episode will affect ties, we will just have to wait and see.

Become a fan on Facebook