Jakarta has to shed big country image’

Indonesia has to shed its self-imposed image of acting like a ‘big country’ in its relations with Singapore, a respected scholar said yesterday. This would be a major step towards improving bilateral ties.

Professor Juwono Sudarsono, the former Indonesian education and defence minister, said Jakarta could also learn from the

Republic’s success during the last 30 years to improve governance in the provinces with the long-term aim of creating ‘mini-Singapores’ throughout the archipelago.

Speaking to The Sunday Times on the sidelines of a closed-door seminar between Indonesians and Singaporeans, he said Jakarta had to change its mindset and see Singapore not as an island state but as an economic and technological ‘maxi-power’ with a global reach.

‘Singapore is an island of efficiency in a sea of inefficiency,’ he said. ‘It lives off the inefficiency of others. That gives neighbouring countries like Indonesia a sense of uneasiness.’

He said Jakarta could overcome its disadvantages in economic development by using Singapore as a benchmark. This could be done gradually by getting provincial governments to copy the Republic’s model.

He noted: ‘We can establish clusters of excellence in governance in delivering basic services in manufacturing, telecommunications, ports and public services, right down to district level.’

Prof Juwono, who now teaches international relations at the University of Indonesia, said it was impossible to create a nationwide infrastructure that matched Singapore’s.

He disclosed that of the 360 regencies in Indonesia, 60 were in line with this thinking, with several local officials having already visited Singapore to study its infrastructure development.

Some 20 of them – South Sumatra, Riau, East Kalimantan and East Java – could already come close to the Republic in terms of basic services in manufacturing and other fields.

‘The challenge now is to increase that number to link these up-and-coming mini-Singapores through a nodal network of cities in the country,’ he said.

Prof Juwono’s comments come against the backdrop of a three-day seminar on Indonesia-Singapore relations organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs and the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

Indonesian participants at the meeting said the Republic was slow to address a number of issues that could improve bilateral ties.

These included extraditing economic criminals, land reclamation and being open about trade statistics.

Some even suggested that Singapore was too close to the United States and criticised its policy of allowing American warships to berth in the island state.

The Singaporeans were quick to point out that these issues were minor irritants that would do little to dent the strong fundamentals in the relationship.

But some Indonesians remained unconvinced.

Professor Hashim Djalal, a former political officer in the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore in the early 1970s, said Jakarta’s concerns were legitimate.

‘I see issues creeping to the fore that could be major problems in bilateral ties if we don’t address them quickly,’ he said.


The challenge now is to increase that number to link these up-and-coming mini-Singapores through a nodal network of cities in the country.’
– Prof Juwono of the University of Indonesia, on Indonesia overcoming its economic disadvantages by getting more regencies to copy the Republic’s model and then forming clusters of excellence

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