Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Pardon my French!

Did Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, in the course of an address in Parliament yesterday (Feb 18), cause a number of parliamentarians and readers of TODAY (Feb 19) to scramble for their online dictionary (who uses the hard copy variety these days?)?

Dr Ng had used the expression "bete noire" (which is of French origin; literally, it means "black beast"). TODAY even lifted out the phrase for a strap headline without explaining in the text of the story what it means:

I suspect the TODAY editors were clueless. Dr Ng did use the term correctly: "It (the warship) would be a bete noire...". But TODAY, in its interpretation, elevated the warship's opprobrium value to near-epic proportion: "Vessel our bete noire..." and "Calling the ship Singapore's bete noire...". Pardon my French, but, no, bete noire simply means...

a person or a thing strongly disliked/detested or avoided

Dr Ng was right to declare that the warship was not welcomed here. And how did an Indonesian minister, a former armed forces chief, react? Here's his response:

Singaporeans will do well to remember that when we ourselves jokingly refer to Singapore as the "little red dot", we are likely thinking of images like chilli padi (diminutive but potent). Bigger neighbours may not share that view. I am glad Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam put things in perspective:


Staying with the international politics of the region, Indonesia seems to have become emboldened in telling China what it must -- or must not -- do!...

In contrast, Malaysia has been taking pains to avoid tensions with China:

I certainly hope, when China and Indonesia become more powerful countries, the former will not insist on a "hia-tee" (Hokkien: bigger male sibling/smaller male sibling) structure of regional ties and the latter will not insist on a similar "abang-adik" relationship with its fellow ASEAN neighbours.

I am also wondering how Singapore will respond should the Chinese navy send its aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, sailing through the region with a request to make a stopover at Changi naval base -- just when a US Navy carrier strike group is in town. We may be in for interesting times.

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