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Indonesian general's watch and his 'retracted' apology to S'pore

Publication Date : 25-04-2014


Reports of Indonesian Military (TNI) chief General Moeldoko‘s apology to Singapore have sparked noisy protests from the Indonesian public, while in Singapore he has been ridiculed for wearing a luxury watch during an interview with Channel News Asia, during which he made the reconciliatory statement.

Many Indonesians will not agree with me, but personally I believe that the TNI chief’s apology, if any, to Singapore in connection with the naming of a corvette after two marines who were hanged in Singapore for a bomb attack there in 1965 is a very wise decision. His apology will not change anything but he has won the hearts of many Singaporeans, including their leaders.

In an interview with TV correspondent Sujadi Siswo, which was aired on Tuesday, the four-star general apologised for hurting the feelings of Singaporeans in the case of the Usman-Harun warship.

“Once again I apologise. We have no ill intent whatsoever to stir emotions. Not at all. Second, relations between the two countries are on the mend. There have been communications between leaders. Singapore’s chief of defense and I have spoken,”  the general said.

Moeldoko denied the apology statement and blamed the interpreter for wrongly translating his Indonesian remarks into English. The general apparently did not realise that nowadays people can just go to YouTube to check the interview. It is hard to believe this was a case of “lost in translation” after watching the TV program. Moeldoko himself initially posted a link to the TV channel on his own Facebook account but it was removed after the uproar.

I suspect the general had to “lie” because of the protests. He did not want to be judged as a “traitor” to his nation as indicated by professor of law at University of Indonesia (UI), Hikmahanto Juwana.

“The TNI chief should clarify his apology statement so that the Indonesian public do not feel betrayed [by Moeldoko],” said Hikmahanto as quoted by

As reported by AFP, Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen welcomed the apology, saying it was a “constructive gesture to improve bilateral defense ties”. It would “strengthen the mutual understanding and friendship that has been built up over many decades”, he said in a statement.

While many people criticised President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for saying “sorry” to Singaporeans and Malaysians who had to suffer from the haze caused by forest fires in Indonesia, I also agreed with the President because the haze affected millions of people in the two neighboring countries, including visiting Indonesians.

“For what is happening, as President, I apologise to our brothers in Singapore and Malaysia,” Yudhoyono said last year. He asked for their understanding and said Indonesia was working hard to fight the fires, which are often set by farmers to clear fields.

President Yudhoyono then issued a harsh statement on Singapore’s behavior toward its giant neighbor. Like his supreme commander, Moeldoko also “retracted” his statement following protests at home. It was regrettable. They just bowed to public pressure.

However, Moeldoko’s response to the public criticism of his alleged “hobby” of “showing off” his super-expensive watches in public is more regrettable. His denials only deepened public suspicion about his wealth. His statement that the watches were fake was not convincing although we could assume that he was being honest, because many people can easily check the authenticity of his jewelry on the

It is nearly impossible to convince the public that he was frank about his watches. It is understandable that the general was nervous because the follow-up question was on how he could afford the watch(es)?

In a comment posted on a website in Singapore, a social media activist wrote about Moeldoko’s style during the interview. “He did it in style. Wearing what appears to be a Richard Mille RM 011 Felipe Massa Flyback Chronograph ‘Black Kite’.”

In Indonesia, the words “mohon maaf” (forgive me or sometimes excuse me), are a very common expression, and very often it is meant just as a courtesy or lip service. But Indonesians are also often very demanding of those who have done something wrong to them, while they are very reluctant to apologise to those whom they have offended or harmed.

During the Idul Fitri festivity Muslims greet each other with “mohon maaf lahir batin” (I apologise with heart and soul). But just try to reply with “I have forgiven all your wrongdoings”, many people would laugh or get upset. It means sometimes that such an apology should not be taken too seriously.

Moeldoko was correct when he said Indonesia did not intend to offend Singapore while strictly maintaining its decision. We are 100 percent right but we were still insensitive. As the largest ASEAN member Indonesia needs to act in line with its capacity to receive respect from smaller neighbors. Of course the same rule applies to our friends.

The general is now facing great difficulties in his public relations job of appeasing those who question his wealth. He needs to remember the phenomenon in Indonesia that the stronger you react and deny the more people distrust you.


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