Singapore Placates Indonesia over Lee’s Race Remarks

JAKARTA ~ Singapore has moved to placate Indonesia after comments made by Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew on Jakarta’s treatment of its ethnic Chinese.

The Indonesian government summoned Singapore’s ambassador last week to seek clarification of reports that Lee had told a forum that ethnic Chinese minority communities in Indonesia and Malaysia were being systematically marginalized.

In a diplomatic note, Singapore said it had no wish to interfere in Indonesia’s domestic affairs and was aware of the improving situation for Chinese in Indonesia, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yuri Thamrin said.

“So (the note) was about acknowledgement of the positive situation in Indonesia with respect to the Chinese, and the second point is that there was not at all any intention to interfere domestically,” he said.

“There is a wish to maintain good relations with Indonesia,” he added.

The spokesman said that the remarks had not taken into account “the changing situation in Indonesia, and that’s why we were a bit confused.”

Thamrin declined to say if the explanation was sufficient to defuse the spat.

“What I can say is we have received the response. We are also interested in promoting mutually beneficial relations,” he said.

“We need to be very careful in making statements sometimes, out-of-context statements that are not really relevant.”

Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese comprise just three percent of the country’s 220 million people but are a dominant force in Southeast Asia’s largest economy.

Malaysia has reacted more vocally to the comments, triggering a qualified apology from Lee to its premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in which he said he was sorry for the “discomfort” caused by his claim.

Abdullah however reiterated his view on Tuesday that the remarks by Lee were “uncalled for and not appreciated” and said they risked inflaming racial tensions.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar had called for an apology.

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