‘It must be two ways, it must be balanced’


PRESIDENT B.J. Habibie, professing that he has nothing against Singapore or any of its ethnic groups, has called for a “win-win” cooperation between the two countries.

But bilateral relations, he was quick to add in an interview with The Straits Times on Sunday, must be built on the basis of the acceptance that each was important to the other. ”It is not one way. It must be two ways, it must be balanced, and you will have to do things based on facts,” he stressed.

While he did not spell out what he had in mind when he talked about facts, it was clear from the interview that he was anxious that Singapore should accept the reality of today’s Indonesia under his charge.

Earlier in the interview, when talking about what he had achieved for Indonesia in the 13 months since he took over from Mr Suharto, he had made repeated references to how some of his critics had disparaged his leadership.

As he turned to bilateral ties, he said Singapore had to accept that today’s Indonesia was different from the Indonesia of a year ago. “But one thing for sure, if Indonesia, in fact, becomes strong and independent based on a win-win cooperation, then everyone, including Singapore, will enjoy …

“It was never in my mind or anyone’s to take a decision which will create problems for our neighbours, especially Singapore.

“Singapore is a member of our family … We are not going to make any difference whether you are of Chinese heritage or Arab or whatever.”

President Habibie’s expression of goodwill came against a backdrop of thinly-veiled criticisms in recent months against Singapore over such diverse matters as the lack of an extradition treaty between the two countries. The Indonesian leader, who once described Singapore as just a little red dot on the map, was at pains to stress repeatedly that Singapore was an important part of the region, and very important to Indonesia.

But Singapore had also to accept that it was an integrated part of the region or “you get problems”.

Said the 63-year-old German-trained engineer: “You can never be separated from your shadow. You can never escape your shadow and you should never be afraid of your shadow. If you want to escape from your shadow and you do not want to unite with your shadow, there is only one alternative. You have to live in absolute darkness.”

Asking The Straits Times to convey his best regards to Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and all Singaporeans, he said that he had many friends in Singapore and talked, a tad wistfully, about Hainanese chicken rice.

He said his sons Ilham and Tariq were now in Singapore, the latter there to be with his wife who had recently given birth to twins.

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