Help is not just aid, says Jakarta

President Habibie’s aide warns that Singapore may be perceived as a fair-weather friend if it limits its help to humanitarian assistance.

A SENIOR ADVISER to President B.J. Habibie warned yesterday that it was unwise for Singapore to stay out of Indonesia’s way and limit itself to humanitarian assistance for the time being as this would only lend further credence to perceptions that the Republic is a “fair-weather friend”.

Dr Dewi Fortuna Anwar also told The Straits Times, in an interview, that Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s comments on Saturday, that Singaporeans should brace themselves for more accusations and threats from crisis-hit countries such as Indonesia, was “paranoiac because Singapore is not seen as a threat to us”.

She said that given Indonesia’s current predicament, Singapore should continue to remain engaged and not keep a distance “from a neighbouring country in woes”.

“My President once remarked that a friend in need is a friend indeed.”

“Singapore knows very well that Indonesia is in dire straits now and this is the time we need their help,” she added.

“Humanitarian assistance smacks of charity. Indonesians are very proud and nationalistic and we certainly don’t want to be seen as a poor cousin getting handouts.”

“We want Singapore to get us investments and help us in external debt financing. This will earn Singapore Indonesia’s goodwill because we know they helped us when the chips were down. Who needs fair-weather friends who are by our side only when times are good?”

“Singapore does not owe Indonesia a living. But it should be aware that both our fates are inextricably linked.”

“Indonesia is the fourth largest country in the world and anything that happens to us affects Singapore and the region.”

“If there are grave ethnic problems in Indonesia, it will have a bearing on Singapore, which is a Chinese enclave.”

She said that while Singapore should help Indonesia, it should refrain from making comments on the country’s leaders. She noted that the Senior Minister had a habit of commenting on the internal affairs of Asean countries which somewhat clashed with the regional organisation’s cherished principle of non-interference.

In particular, she pointed out his remarks about the “suitability” of Dr Habibie for the vice-presidency last year.

SM Lee had said last February that the financial markets were “disturbed” by former president Suharto’s criterion for selection of a vice-president – that Indonesia’s No 2 should have a mastery of science and technology.

Many in the financial markets and elsewhere saw the criterion as the strongest indication that Mr Suharto would pick then Research and Technology Minister Habibie as his running mate.

Dr Dewi’s views on bilateral ties are reflective of Dr Habibie’s inner core of advisers, many of whom are members of the Association of Muslim Intellectuals (Icmi).

Insiders said that the President’s occasional swipes at Singapore were somewhat influenced by their thinking.

The Straits Times understands that at least three Cabinet ministers have tried at various times to get Dr Habibie to take a harder line against the Republic on issues ranging from signing an extradition treaty to releasing bilateral trade figures.

Others in the Cabinet have tended to be moderate in their views.

One ministerial source said that SM Lee’s most recent comments were timely, given that “relations were now not at its best”.

He said: “It is a well-formulated statement. The Senior Minister understands very well that Singapore has to keep a distance and not interfere in Indonesia politically and economically.”

“It is not a dismissal of Indonesia’s concerns. The element of humanitarian assistance is appropriate at this point in time.” State Secretary and Golkar chairman Akbar Tanjung sought to downplay the recent tensions.

He told The Straits Times that Indonesia valued Singapore as a regional partner and wanted to deepen ties by strengthening economic links, including supplying water to Singapore in the near future.

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