Summoning of envoys should be last resort — Tay Tian Yan
JUNE 25 — People were shocked to hear that Singapore High Commissioner Ong Keng Yong was summoned by Malaysian government. They thought that there was an outbreak of confrontation between the two countries, fulfilling the prophecy of Singapore Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.
When they calmed down, they found that it was not the case.
In fact, Ong was summoned by Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman over the involvement of three Singapore High Commission officials in the Bersih 3.0 gathering on April 28. Anifah expressed the government’s “displeasure” over the trio’s participation in the rally.
Displeasure could be expressed in many other ways instead of summoning the commissioner. After all, the summoning of diplomats is not a usual practice, but the last resort when there is no other option.
Diplomacy stresses on protocol, that is, diplomatic etiquette. It is a set of standard practices to safeguard their own interests and at the same time, take care of the dignity of other countries.
A clever diplomat should be generous-minded and know how to take advantage of situations. A phone call and a statement would be enough to solve a problem in its initial stage. He might even be able to turn hatred into friendship in banquets or other functions.
Some major controversies are not easy to handle, particularly when sovereignty and security are involved. The act to summon envoys should be only used as the last resort when the two countries are at daggers, to solemnly declare their stands.
The trump card would be used usually when the situation reaches a critical juncture. The last time when an ambassador was summoned was when Western countries summoned Syrian envoys to condemn Damascus’ violent crackdown on anti-government protesters.
Even when China and the Philippines were engaged in a territorial dispute in which even warships were deployed, the Philippine government still did not dare to “summon” the Chinese envoy, but rather cautiously “invited” the Chinese envoy for talks.
Therefore, “summoning” is not a trivial matter and should not be used indiscriminately.
There are no signs showing that the three officials attended the Bersih 3.0 rally were involved in the planning and launching of the rally. Therefore, it should not be called interference in internal affairs or violation to the Vienna Convention.
The officials are in charge of political affairs and have liaison with the media. We have met and chatted before.
They are responsible in collecting information, understanding the Malaysian affairs and presenting reports. These are normal diplomatic activities and their work scope is well aware and has been understood by the government.
The Bersih 3.0 rally has brought a huge impact to the political development of Malaysia and it might have an impact on regional politics. It is not surprising to find diplomatic personnel at the rally. Surely not only Singapore diplomats had attended the rally that day.
However, the Malaysian government has many taboos when it comes to matters related to the rally. While concerned about international perception, it is also worred about the involvement of foreign interests. It is a bit sensitive to find foreigners at the rally. The Singapore authorities should have been more aware of this.
Perhaps, it might be more convincing if the government also summons the Indonesian envoy over the violent acts by protesters at the Malaysia Hall in Jakarta, which has damaged parts of it and injured a security guard. — mysinchew.com
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.