Singapore and Indonesia reaffirm 'excellent' ties, pledge to deepen cooperation

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (left) with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana on October 8, 2019, as the pair hold their fourth Leaders' Retreat. ― TODAY pic
Indonesian President Joko Widodo (left) with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana on October 8, 2019, as the pair hold their fourth Leaders' Retreat. ― TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, Oct 9 — Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo yesterday reaffirmed the “excellent state of relations” between the two countries and pledged to deepen bilateral cooperation.

As they held their fourth Leaders’ Retreat at the Istana, the two leaders discussed ways to further cooperation in economic, sociocultural and security matters, and welcomed an agreed framework to discuss longstanding bilateral issues on airspace management and military training.

They also oversaw the inking of a deal that would facilitate the exchange of electronic data for trade, and a memorandum of understanding on cooperation between the National Archives of both Singapore and Indonesia.

The meeting comes before Widodo is due to start his second and final five-year term in government on October 20, after his electoral victory in April. He was last in Singapore to watch the National Day Parade at the invitation of Lee.

Speaking at a joint press conference alongside Widodo, Lee congratulated the Indonesian leader on his re-election, stating that ties between the two nations had grown stronger in his first term.

“I am very happy that in his first term, we have built an excellent relationship of trust and cooperation, and bilateral relations have prospered,” he said. ”I look forward to deepening our relationship with him and his new Cabinet team in his second term and bringing Singapore-Indonesia relations to a higher level.” 

Widodo thanked Lee for hosting him, adding: “In our meeting, we both affirmed our commitment to continue strengthening mutual relations between our two countries.”

Economic cooperation

The two leaders also witnessed the signing of the Singapore-Indonesia Agreement on Electronic Data Exchange to Better Facilitate and Secure Trade by Singapore Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, and Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati.

The deal will help promote a seamless, paperless and secure business environment for companies engaged in bilateral trade between both countries, linking up the trade systems of both countries so that companies can benefit from expedited trading with each other, a press release from Singapore Customs said.

Lee said that this agreement will boost cross-border trade, adding that there is potential to do more in collaborations in the digital economy, tourism, finance, infrastructure and human resources.

The leaders also agreed to update the bilateral Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement, which is now almost 30 years old.

Another “key piece”, Lee said, is the Bilateral Investment Treaty, which Singapore ratified last year, though Indonesia has not done so.

Singapore has been Indonesia’s largest investor since 2014, and both countries are among each other’s top few trading partners.

The retreat also saw delegations from both sides discussing other economic links and bilateral projects, such as the Kendal Industrial Park in Central Java, which has attracted US$800 million (about RM3.35 billion) in investments to date, and the Nongsa Digital Park in Batam.

The Batam project continues to serve as a “digital bridge” between Singapore and Indonesia and currently has almost 800 Indonesian tech talents working for 90 local and international companies, said Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in a press statement on Tuesday evening.

They also agreed to renew for one year the financial arrangement between the Monetary Authority of Singapore and Bank Indonesia, which consists of a bilateral swop agreement of local currency and an enhanced bilateral repo agreement equivalent to a combined value of US$10 billion.

Both leaders committed to deepening defence ties, too, including through joint counter-terrorism exercises and supporting Indonesia’s information-sharing initiative Asean Our Eyes.

Longstanding issues

Both Lee and Widodo agreed that their nations’ good working relationship and the strong relations enabled both sides to “discuss longstanding issues in an open and constructive manner”.

On the topic of airspace management as well as military training in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), they spoke about a framework for discussions on these issues, which laid out the core principles and considerations on how these topics would be handled by the two parties.

The framework was negotiated “over the last few months” and both sides have agreed on it, Lee said. Both leaders have instructed their ministers and officials to follow up with detailed negotiations on the basis of the framework.

Indonesia is making a bid to take over airspace management of the flight information region (FIR) above the Riau Islands from Singapore, which has been managing it since 1946. The Indonesian military had also put up opposition to the Singapore’s use of the airspace above Riau for military training, while Singapore has stated that this is compliant with Unclos.

Widodo said that he welcomed the framework, while Lee said that both nations should negotiate agreements on these issues that are “durable and for the long haul”.

Lee said: “The framework offers a sound and comprehensive basis to work out solutions to these two issues separately but (also) concurrently.” 

A statement from Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the framework “acknowledges that the core interests and rights of both countries must be recognised and respected”.

In a Jakarta Post report, the framework states that, among others, Indonesia and Singapore are committed to reaching an agreement on FIRs and on military training in the South China Sea.

It also states that both countries recognise that “FIRs are not about sovereignty but the safety and efficiency of air traffic” and acknowledge that “military training in the South China Sea is governed by Article 51 of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea”.

Jakarta Post reported that the framework shows the negotiating positions of the two sides. Indonesia wants Singapore to respect “Indonesia’s sovereignty over its territory, including its territorial waters, archipelagic waters and its airspace” and “to understand Indonesia’s strong desire to align the FIR in a timely manner which corresponds to its territorial sovereignty”.

Singapore, on the other hand, requires Indonesia “to fully respect and recognise Singapore’s rights to conduct military training in the South China Sea in accordance with Article 51” and to understand that Singapore’s interests include the present and future requirements for Changi Airport, the report stated.

The Leaders’ Retreat ends today. ― TODAY

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