Stung very much by Kiwi PM Helen Clark’s personal appeal to Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong to grant clemency for death row convict Aussie Nguyen Van Tuong, and worried that he has been made to look relatively passive, John Howard has again done what he said he won’t – he made another personal appeal to his Singapore counterpart, but admitted he has been unsuccessful. However, he refuses to raise the issue formally for debate at CHOGM - as that would have truly annoyed the Singaporeans.
I reckon Howard's appeal has been more to placate the home crowds. And as a reminder of that burning concern, Howard said he was sorry he had not been able to do more to help Nguyen. He stated, "I can promise you I've tried in all the appropriate ways to persuade them [the Singaporeans] to do otherwise and I regret that I have been unsuccessful. I'm sorry about that."
Howard is conscious of the very deep Aussie resentment against the Singapore government’s insistence to execute Nguyen that he actually raised this prospect with PM Lee. Howard said in the most diplomatic terms, "I have an obligation to explain to the Government of Singapore that there will be lingering resentment on the part of many Australians regarding this issue."
Howard has ruled out any form of government sanctions against Singapore, which I do agree would have been only a grandstanding gesture with no real bite at all, but he warns Singapore, who has business interests downunder such as Optus, that the Aussie public may start to boycott goods and services associated with Singapore. In fact, those business concerns have been lying low since two weeks ago, making only the minimum statements when the press attempted to interview them.
The Aussie media has also been relatively subdued on Nguyen coming execution compared to the Schapelle Corby or Michelle Leslie cases but as the execution date approaches, and if no significant world or domestic event arises to overshadow Nguyen's fate, I have no doubt the press will whip up their usual concoction to raise the temperature and blood pressure. Then the boycott, if any, will begin to become apparent and snowball.
Probably knowing how she has unwittingly made Howard look bad on this issue, PM Helen Clarke was very gracious in saying, "I know that John Howard is doing absolutely everything he can about this case."
The lesson here is that public political pressure works in Australia and New Zealand. In Singapore I am sure it will also work, when one day it has a vocal public or at least a politically spontaneous one.
(1) Nguyen Saga - Kiwi PM step in
(2) Nguyen's Execution - Oz Govt in Damage Control