S’pore-Jakarta ties on firmer ground

Political stability achieved under Megawati administration has helped boost bilateral ties, says DPM Tan.

Singapore’s ties with Indonesia are now on a steady course, given the political stability that the Megawati administration has brought to the country.

Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Tony Tan’s message yesterday, after meeting top Indonesian leaders here, was clear: this was a government Singapore could do business with.

Giving an overview of the progress Singapore-Indonesia ties have made since Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri took power last July, he told Singapore reporters at a news conference here: ‘The relationship since 1998 has gone through a bumpy period. But President Megawati has restored stability to the Indonesian government …

‘We do not have to worry about new announcements every other day from the palace. And that is very important as there has to be some certainty and consistency in policy.’

Indeed, the past 12-months have seen both sides moving closer – without the occasional outbursts from Indonesian leaders that marred ties previously.

In 1998, then president B.J. Habibie described Singapore as a mere ‘red dot’ on the map. Two years later, his successor Abdurrahman Wahid called on Malaysia to cut its water supply to Singapore, saying that the Republic was interested only in reaping financial rewards.

These days, bilateral ties are marked by an understanding of the need to work together.

Dr Tan said that defence links will continue to be the bedrock of Singapore-Indonesia relations. In fact, cooperation between the Singapore Armed Forces and the Indonesian Defence Forces was expanding in light of regional security threats posed by terrorism and piracy.

In terms of economic cooperation, he said Singapore’s proposed Free Trade Agreement with the United States could include electronic products from Indonesia, especially Batam and Bintan.

Given Beijing’s emergence as an economic power, he also believed that the Republic could help Indonesia tap into the huge China market.

Asked whether Singapore would consider tapping water supply from the Riau islands – which an editorial in the Jakarta Post suggested yesterday – Dr Tan replied that the Republic was looking to diversify its water sources.

‘If Indonesia invites us to look at opportunities for buying water, I don’t see why not,’ he said.

Dr Tan, who met Ms Megawati, Vice-President Hamzah Haz, Defence Minister Matori Djalal and Parliamentary Speaker Akbar Tanjung during his visit, noted that the Singapore -Indonesia relationship was an important one.

But he cautioned that good ties should not be taken for granted, given the major challenges that could arise. These include the scourge of terrorism, China’s emergence as a major global player and developments in Indonesian politics, such as direct presidential polls in 2004

Dr Tan, who leaves for home today after a meeting with Chief Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, said it was in Singapore’s interests to assist Jakarta within the Republic’s limits.

‘This cooperation should not be seen as benefiting Indonesia alone. If Indonesia develops, Singapore will also benefit,’ he said.

‘We can cooperate well in many areas. There is no reason why we cannot have a win-win situation.’

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