SINGAPORE: Rather than "fighting yesterday's battles", Singapore needs to look to the future to see how it can cooperate with immediate neighbours, said Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan on Wednesday (Jan 22).
Speaking at the Singapore Management University, Dr Balakrishnan noted that Singapore is "intertwined" with Malaysia and Indonesia and shares a "common destiny" with these countries.
"We share deep historical links with Malaysia and Indonesia, and our countries are economically, financially, socially and even related by blood," he said. "We are intertwined, our futures, we do have a common destiny within ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)."
Dr Balakrishnan's speech was part of a series by Singapore's 4G leaders under the ambit of the SG Together initiative. The event was organised by the Ministry of Education’s Humanities Branch, in partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
He added: "We do aim to be a friend with as many countries as possible, and hopefully not to make any enemies.
"This need to establish constructive relations is all the more crucial when it comes to our immediate neighbourhood - where peace and stability and progress are absolutely essential."
From time to time, problems and issues will arise, he noted.
"We've seen this in the past year or two, transboundary haze, maritime disputes, boundary disputes, airspace issues and so on," he said.
"My own view ... is that we should try not to waste time fighting yesterday's battles, yesterday's political and emotional baggage. But we should actually look ahead to the future to see how we can cooperate for mutual benefit."
GOOD RAPPORT BETWEEN SINGAPORE, INDONESIA LEADERS
On ties with Indonesia, Dr Balakrishnan said President Joko Widodo and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong share "very good rapport".
"I can tell you from close observation that President Jokowi and Prime Minister Lee have very good rapport with each other," he said. "And good rapport between leaders is essential and helpful, because it avoids misunderstanding."
Dr Balakrishnan added that the prosperity of Indonesia would benefit Singapore.
"I often remind my Indonesian counterparts that Singapore believes in Indonesia's success - that a growing stable, confident Indonesia is good for the region, good for Singapore," he said.
"With its youthful population and rapid growth potential, Indonesia, in fact, has got great potential for the future."
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Singapore has been the biggest investor in Indonesia since 2014, Dr Balakrishnan pointed out.
"There's actually much more that we can do, many opportunities for us to embark on new projects for win-win cooperation, and we can and should branch out beyond Jakarta into the regions and find more opportunities for our companies and our students."
PROGRESS MADE ON RESOLVING BILATERAL ISSUES WITH MALAYSIA
Turning to ties with Malaysia, Dr Balakrishnan noted that there has been progress in the ongoing bilateral discussions.
"We have a list of issues. discussions are ongoing, but at least there's progress on some fronts," he said.
For instance, Singapore welcomes Malaysia's decision in October last year to proceed with the Johor Bahru Singapore rail transit system, he said.
"We believe this will facilitate cross border flows between Johor and us. It will benefit them and it will benefit us. We are presently discussing with them their proposed changes to the project.
"We also continue to negotiate with Malaysia in good faith to settle our outstanding maritime boundary disputes."
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Singapore also needs to further identify opportunities to strengthen ASEAN centrality and unity as well as expand cooperation between ASEAN and dialogue partners, said Dr Balakrishnan.
ASEAN will become the fourth-largest economy in the world by 2030 after the United States, China and the European Union, said Dr Balakrishnan, and the digital economy alone in ASEAN will grow three-fold to reach S$415 billion by 2025.
As such, this is where schools and teachers could enhance students' awareness of and identification with ASEAN as well the opportunities that the region offers them in the near future, he added.