Jakarta, S’pore leaders build on ties

Hot on the heels of SM Goh’s visit to Indonesia is a trip by Jusuf Kalla to S’pore next week

SINGAPORE’S ties with Indonesia are building on the momentum of regular exchanges between the top leaders.

In yet another indication of strengthening links, Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla will visit Singapore from April 14 to 16 at the invitation of Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who ended a two-day visit to Jakarta only yesterday.

‘All these visits are healthy and good exchanges,’ said Senior Minister Goh’s press secretary, Mr Stanley Loh, giving an overview of the trip to Jakarta.

There has been a slew of high-level exchanges between the two countries over the past few months.

Among these was a visit to Indonesia by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in October, to attend the inauguration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The Prime Minister also participated in the tsunami summit in Jakarta in January.

Among other ministers who have made recent trips to Jakarta are Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan, Foreign Minister George Yeo and Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

Indonesian ministers and senior government officials have, in turn, made efforts to touch base with their counterparts in Singapore.

Dr Yudhoyono made an official visit to the Republic in February.

Political observer Arbi Sanit from the University of Indonesia told The Straits Times: ‘There is clearly an effort by the leadership of both countries to build political bridges across the borders.’

There have also been efforts to bolster exchanges in other areas.

Apart from holding talks with Mr Jusuf and several ministers during his visit, Mr Goh also made it a point to meet top businessmen, politicians and key Islamic leaders in Indonesia. He was able to cover a broad range of issues.

Golkar party cadre Agus Kartasasmita, together with six other senior legislators, took part in a lunch discussion with Mr Goh yesterday.

‘The Senior Minister shared with us his perspective on things which were very valuable because we want to know what our neighbours are thinking about on matters that can affect Indonesia and Singapore,’ Mr Agus said afterwards.

‘It just builds up the level of understanding between both sides.’

Mr Goh also took the opportunity to meet four Islamic leaders.

One of them, Mr Ulil Abshar Abdalla who heads the Liberal Islam Network, said that the focus of the discussion was on Islam in Indonesia and the region.

Said Mr Ulil: ‘Pak Goh is a non-Muslim and a foreigner but showed us that he was very well-informed about the subtle dynamics of Islam in Indonesia and other countries. That comes with exposure and knowledge about our society.’

Mr Gita Wirjawan, the country manager for JP Morgan who chaired a panel discussion with Mr Goh and two other Indonesian ministers on Tuesday night, said: ‘Mr Goh’s presence and that of other foreign leaders in the country are important because they give us valuable insight into international perceptions of Indonesia.

‘It will help Indonesia integrate faster into the global economy.’

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