Indonesia’s English newspaper Jakarta Post has joined the Singapore-Malaysia spat — to be on Singapore’s side.

Takes a swing at Mahathir

In a Dec. 7 editorial piece, “Mahathir’s same old song”, Jakarta Post openly sided with Singapore and its prime minister:

A border dispute between Malaysia and Singapore has resurfaced, with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad himself getting involved in the public spat this week. We praise Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for not responding openly to Mahathir’s claim, as the latter is simply singing the same old song. Exaggerating the long-standing problem would be counterproductive for both sides.

The article, which is behind a paywall, gave the background on the most recent dispute, as well as highlight how Mahathir’s provocations have been ongoing since the time when the late Lee Kuan Yew was prime minister.

Mahathir getting involved in the spat

On Dec, 5. Mahathir told Malaysian media that Malaysia was within its rights to extend the Johor Baru port as it has not trespassed onto Singapore’s territorial waters.

He said:

“We can measure to see if it is true or not but we had not touched their border…We are still within our own waters.”

Mahathir needs to change approach

In response to the provocative comments, the Jakarta Post editorial also chastised Mahathir for not being a “mature statesman”:

As a senior leader, Mahathir, who turned 93 in July, needs to change his confrontational and hostile approach toward Singapore and act as a mature statesman. The advice of one of the founding fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin, to not “throw stones at your neighbors’, if your own windows are glass” is apt.

The close geographical proximity between Singapore and Malaysia means the two countries are important to each other.

According to 2017 data, Jakarta Post said Singapore is Malaysia’s most important trading partner, while for Singapore its neighbor is third after China and Hong Kong.

Jakarta Post further said Indonesia also has its border disputes with its neighbours, including Singapore and Malaysia.

It said fanning the flames could harm relations.

The article ended by directly using Mahathir’s own words against him.

Jakarta Post wrote:

In his keynote speech at the APEC CEO Summit in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, last month, Mahathir cited the old saying: “Prosper thy neighbor and not beggar thy neighbor.” Those words of wisdom should be heeded by Malaysia and Singapore for the sake of bilateral relations.

Previous Jakarta Post article

This most recent editorial stance by Jakarta Post comes in the wake of its earlier take on Singapore’s conservative and predictable leadership transition, which is nowhere close to Indonesia’s rough and tumble electoral battles.

A few days earlier on Dec. 5, Jakarta Post wrote the piece, “Singapore’s succession system: Faultless but unimaginative“, that can be construed as both a backhanded compliment for Singapore’s orderliness and a minor jibe at Singapore for taking its image too seriously.

Two paragraphs of glowing praise include:

Stability, continuity, excellent governance both in government and in the private sector, an effective and transparent legal system and an international-oriented market are among the core features of Singapore.

Borrowing from our third president BJ Habibie, Singapore is just a little red dot compared to Indonesia, but Singapore can pride itself as being among the world’s most advanced nations. Its bigger neighbors Indonesia and Malaysia often make Singapore a scapegoat for their failures to bully the small state.

But the piece also noted that Singapore is often made the scapegoat by its bigger neighbours:

Its bigger neighbors Indonesia and Malaysia often make Singapore a scapegoat for their failures to bully the small state.

[…]

In a TV interview in October last year, Prime Minister Lee said “It is never easy to be a small country next to a big neighbor.”

Despite Singapore’s small physical size, it is acknowledged to be punching above its weight in the region.

However, Singapore’s neighbors fully respect his leadership, including when he chaired ASEAN for one year until last month.