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Excellent, multi-faceted relations between Singapore and Indonesia in ‘good shape’: PM Lee

Excellent, multi-faceted relations between Singapore and Indonesia in ‘good shape’: PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Indonesian President Joko Widodo at a Leaders’ Retreat on Oct 8, 2019. (Photo: TODAY/Najeer Yusof Muallim)

SINGAPORE: Bilateral ties between Singapore and Indonesia are in "good shape”, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at a Leaders’ Retreat between the two countries on Tuesday (Oct 8), adding that the relationship is “deep, multi-faceted and forward-looking”.

Speaking during a joint press conference at the Istana, Mr Lee said an “excellent relationship of trust and cooperation” built with President Joko Widodo has meant that ties between both sides have prospered during the latter’s first term in office.

File photo of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. (Photo: TODAY/Najeer Yusof Muallim)

“Bilateral relations are in good shape - they are deep, multi-faceted and forward-looking,” said Mr Lee. “We’ve achieved much together during President Jokowi’s first term and I look forward to sustaining this positive trajectory and carrying it forward into his second term.”

On his part, the Indonesian leader said: “Let's continue working together for the prosperity of our two countries and people.”

Mr Widodo is in Singapore for a two-day visit as part of the Singapore-Indonesia Leaders’ Retreat.

This is Mr Lee’s fourth Leaders’ Retreat with Mr Widodo, and the first since the Indonesian president’s re-election in May. He will be inaugurated later this month.

Indonesia President Joko Widodo and PM Lee inspecting the guard of honour during the welcome ceremony at the Istana on Oct 8, 2019. (Photo: Najeer Yusof/TODAY)

He is accompanied by first lady Iriana Joko Widodo and an Indonesian delegation, which includes ministers and officials.

The Singapore delegation includes Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat, Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean, as well as other Cabinet ministers.

Earlier in the day, Mr Widodo attended a welcome ceremony at the Istana.


The press conference followed the signing of an agreement on electronic data exchange to facilitate and secure trade through the link-up of the National Single Windows of both countries, as well as a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the national archives of both sides.

The agreement reaffirms both countries’ commitment to promote a seamless, paperless and secure business environment for companies engaged in bilateral trade.

It was signed by Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat and Indonesian Minister for Finance, Sri Mulyani. The signing was witnessed by Mr Lee and Mr Widodo.

In addition to the agreement, both countries also inked a three-year MOU which will provide for collaboration between the National Archives of the Republic of Indonesia and the National Archives of Singapore.

Among other things, the MOU will allow for collaboration between both institutions to share knowledge in archival holdings on history, culture or heritage.


In his speech, Mr Lee said that “economic ties are strong, and continue to grow.”

He noted that Singapore has been Indonesia’s largest investor since 2014. Citing the example of Kendal Industrial Park in Central Java, he said it has attracted US$800 million in investments from almost 60 companies to date.

Meanwhile, the Nongsa Digital Park in Batam has also done well in attracting 90 tenant companies since its inception last year, and has about 800 tech talent employed from Indonesia.

Mr Lee said that cruise tourism is also going well, with the launching of new cruise routes to Bintan, Surabaya and Bali.

And there remains the potential to do much more especially in new areas, he said.

“We discussed how we can catalyse more investments in each other,” he added. “One key piece is the Bilateral Investment Treaty, which we signed at last year’s Retreat, and which we hope Indonesia will ratify soon.”

READ: Singapore, Indonesia sign bilateral investment treaty, 4 MOUs

Another important step is to update the bilateral Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement, Mr Lee also said. Such steps will “further strengthen” the flow of trade and investments, he added.

A press statement issued by Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) on Tuesday noted that both leaders discussed ways to further strengthen financial cooperation.

“Given current global economic conditions, they agreed that the Monetary Authority of Singapore and Bank Indonesia would work together to renew for another year their existing bilateral financial arrangement to support monetary and financial stability, which expires on 4 November 2019,” said the statement.

“The leaders agreed that the central banks would discuss and finalise the details and announce them in due course.”

Indonesia President Joko Widodo and PM Lee observing the welcome ceremony at the Istana on Oct 8, 2019. (Photo: Najeer Yusof/TODAY)


The MFA press statement said Mr Lee and Mr Widodo agreed that their good working relationship and the strong relations between Singapore and Indonesia have enabled both sides to discuss longstanding issues in an open and constructive manner.

Two such issues were that of airspace management, specifically the status of the Flight Information Region (FIR) and of military training in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“In this regard, the leaders welcomed the agreed framework for discussions, which laid out the core principles and considerations based on which discussions on these issues will be conducted,” the statement added.

During the press conference, Mr Lee said both sides have held preliminary discussions over the past few months.

“This framework acknowledges that the core interests and rights of both countries must be recognised and respected.” 

Mr Lee added that both sides should negotiate agreements on these two issues that are durable and for the long haul.

“The framework offers a sound and comprehensive basis to work out solutions to these two issues, separately but concurrently,” he said.

“We have instructed our ministers and officials to follow up with detailed negotiations on the basis of this framework, and to conclude and implement the agreements in a timely manner."

READ: Airspace talks must be based on ‘technical and operational’ considerations: Vivian Balakrishnan

Indonesia has repeatedly expressed its wish to take over control of the FIR above Riau islands, which has been managed by Singapore since 1946 as mandated by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Singapore has repeatedly said that the FIR is not an issue of sovereignty, but of the safety and efficiency of commercial air traffic.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo speaking at a Leaders’ Retreat on Oct 8, 2019. (Photo: TODAY/Najeer Yusof Muallim)

Mr Widodo said during the press conference: “Indonesia welcomes the framework for negotiation of the FIR as agreed by the two countries.

“Indonesia respects the position of Singapore which understands Indonesia's wish to oversee its own airspace. Our technical teams have started negotiations; we encourage the negotiations to speedily achieve concrete result.”

According to a Jakarta Post report published on Monday, the framework says that, among others, Indonesia and Singapore are committed to reaching an agreement on FIRs and on military training in the South China Sea.

It also states that both countries recognise that "FIRs are not about sovereignty but the safety and efficiency of air traffic" and acknowledge that "military training in the South China Sea is governed by Article 51 of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea".

The report also shows the negotiating positions of the two sides. Indonesia wants Singapore to respect "Indonesia’s sovereignty over its territory, including its territorial waters, archipelagic waters and its airspace" and “to understand Indonesia’s strong desire to align the FIR in a timely manner which corresponds to its territorial sovereignty”.

Singapore, meanwhile, requires Indonesia "to fully respect and recognise Singapore’s rights to conduct military training in the South China Sea in accordance with Article 51" and to understand that Singapore’s interests include the present and future requirements for Changi Airport, the report stated.

Source: CNA/aa(aw)


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