Habibie seeks greater ties with KL

The Indonesian President stresses common race and language as he calls for mutually beneficial bilateral links. INDONESIA’s President B.J. Habibie, stressing common race and language yesterday, called for greater bilateral cooperation with Malaysia.

Speaking to reporters after a two-hour meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad here whom he referred to as “my senior partner”, he said that both countries stood to benefit by forging links “not just for now but for the future”.

“Malaysia and Indonesia share the same language and race, and we even share similar physical characteristics,” he said. “That makes us very compatible, which means that it will be easy to work together.”

Dr Habibie, who government sources said initiated the summit after writing to Dr Mahathir earlier this month, was, however, short on the specifics of bilateral tie-ups.

Dr Mahathir alluded to them when, during the 30-minute joint press conference, he said that the talks allowed both sides to clear up bilateral issues like disputes pertaining to logging, trading and border crossings. “We have decided on the ways and means of ensuring that these things do not happen to the detriment of each other’s country.”

Underscoring the effort to boost ties, the summit was followed by delegation meetings between the respective economic, foreign affairs and defence ministers of both countries.

Malaysia’s Trade and Industry Minister Rafidah Aziz told reporters later that Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur were “looking at potential areas we can work together in the economy”.

She said that this meant increasing two-way investment flows and trade financing. She made no mention of Malaysia’s cancellation of its US$1-billion (S$1.72-billion) loan to Jakarta last month.

She said that both sides had agreed that the Asean Free Trade Agreement should proceed on schedule despite problems in one or two sectors.

Both countries had also decided to demand a vote to determine the next chief of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). She said Malaysia and Indonesia backed the Thai candidate in a show of Asean solidarity.

Dr Habibie’s chief foreign policy adviser Dewi Fortuna Anwar told The Straits Times that besides economic matters, the two sides also touched on illegal Indonesian immigrants to Malaysia and the thorny issue of the disputed islands of Sipidan and Ligitan.

Relations between the two countries dipped recently in the wake of the Anwar Ibrahim saga. The Indonesian leader and several members of his Cabinet are close friends of the ousted Malaysian deputy premier.

Dr Dewi downplayed the whole affair, saying that after being preoccupied with internal problems, “the two countries can start afresh by communicating as we did before”.

“Relations between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are the most crucial for peace and stability in South-east Asia,” she said.

“We would like to think that after the talks with Malaysia, we have strengthened one leg of that triangle. We hope to strengthen the other leg with Singapore as well.”

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