The warts in S’pore-Jakarta ties get an airing

Despite hard-hitting comments, a Jakarta conference agrees on the need for the two to work together.

Extradition of economic criminals, land reclamation, sand, trade statistics, defence build-up, and Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s views on Indonesia.

These issues were reeled off one by one by academics and ex-officials here in a frank exchange between Singaporeans and Indonesians at the start of a two-day seminar as they brainstormed ways to improve ties.

The Singaporeans responded immediately with this suggestion: Let’s not heckle over ‘small pebbles’ and ‘warts’ and look ahead to building further the already strong fundamentals in bilateral relations.

Despite the occasional hard-hitting comments from some participants, the general consensus was that both countries had a stake in working together in the face of global terrorism and China’s growing ascendancy.

Mr Jusuf Wanandi of the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) that co-hosted the more than two-hour conference with the Singapore Institute for International Affairs (SIIA) said:

‘We need each other to cope with the changes in the strategic environment. We need to understand each other better. Once that happens, there will be trust.’

Mr Wanandi and other Indonesians noted that Singapore could play the role of ‘interlocutor’ given its close ties to China and the rest of the world.

But this was rejected by one participant who said that ‘it is a crying shame’ to ask the Republic to act on its behalf.

‘I wonder whether Singapore is really up to it,’ she said.

‘I don’t think the next generation of politicians in Singapore has the same credibility as the Senior Minister.’

Mr Lee came in for some criticism from Indonesia’s former ambassador to the United States, Mr Hasnan Habib, for ‘misguided remarks’ he had made recently about terrorist ringleaders in the country.

Mr Hasnan and others poured cold water over suggestions by Mr Lee that there were extremists with international terrorist links in Indonesia.

But Mr Wanandi made clear later that the Senior Minister had in many more instances provided advice and support that was beneficial to Indonesia.

‘His views are important and we should listen to them,’ he said.

Indonesian participants took pains to mention that both countries had to address ‘real pebbles in the shoes’ that had been long-delayed.

These included the need for an extradition treaty to deal with conglomerates which had run off to Singapore with huge sums of money and the need to delimit maritime boundaries.

The Republic should also provide accurate information on trade statistics.

Singapore MP Irene Ng, who is also deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Foreign Affairs, said there was a need to look beyond these problems to foster closer ties.

She noted that the fundamentals of bilateral relations were already strong, with Singapore being the third largest foreign investor in Indonesia.

She identified the extension of the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement to cover Indonesian IT products as one way to draw further investments into the country.

Addressing some of the points raised by the Indonesian participants, SIIA head Simon Tay said: ‘Singapore and Indonesia are built to be different. But that does not mean we cannot work together.’

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