Singapore has probably never felt so besieged.
Indonesia is the latest neighbour to be cross with the tiny island nation after squabbles with Malaysia and Thailand.
Yesterday, Jakarta Post and other Indonesian papers reported the Indonesian government's decision to ban the sale of land sand, which effectively deprives Singapore the bulk of its sand needs for construction jobs. Singapore is the biggest user of Indonesian sand.
Price of land sand in Singapore will shoot up overnight although the Singapore government is set to release its stockpile of sand to help cap sand price. This is probably the first time that Singapore has publicly said it has a stockpile of sand to deal with contingency. With such meticulous long-term planning, it is not inconceivable that Singapore has massive stockpiles of other essential items like water, oil, gas, rice, sugar and many other seemingly mundane things in life.
Back to the Indonesian ban on sand. The Indonesian move is ostensibly due to environmental concerns but there is also a lingering feeling that it is payback time over the haze issue. The two countries had a diplomatic spat when Singapore raised the perennial Indonesian haze problem, which was driving away investors from the region, at the United Nation last October.
With the latest ban, Singapore won't be able to buy any sand -- land sand (used for concrete in building construction) and sea sand (used for reclamation works) -- from either Indonesia and Malaysia.
Former Malaysian premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad had banned the sale of all types of sand to Singapore during the crisis days in the 1990s. Singapore then turned to Indonesia for land sand as there was still a Indonesian ban on the sale of sea sand, which must be dredged from the seabed.
The Malaysian sand issue cropped up again during the failed talks between Singapore and Malaysia to jointly build a bridge to replace the causeway linking the two countries. As part of the deal, Singapore had wanted the right to buy Malaysian sand and use its airspace.
It was no go for Malaysia, which then scrapped the bridge project completely. The decision incensed Dr Mahathir, who felt that Malaysia had the right to build its half of the bridge, with or without Singapore's nod. He was also upset that Malaysia had even entertained the idea of selling sand to Singapore despite his earlier ban. The sand issue is just the tip of the iceberg in Malaysia-Singapore bilateral ties.
Of course, Singapore is still sorting out the mess in Thailand.