SEMARANG, Indonesia: The Indonesia-Singapore Business Council will provide a framework for companies to look for more investment opportunities, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his wrap-up interview with Singapore media after the leaders’ retreat on Monday (Nov 14).
The setting up of the business council was announced by Mr Lee during the leaders’ retreat at a joint press conference with President Joko Widodo. Mr Lee said the council, which will allow businesses from both countries to network and understand opportunities on both sides, would get the private sector to look and assess the viability investment projects.
“It's the government that provides the framework, but the private sector must make them work and assess where it is viable, where it is attractive, what is the best way to proceed with it,” he said.
He added that having the business council is timely as Singapore already has a similar structure with other countries. “We think that the best way to do that is for our business people to get together and meet one another regularly, and a business council, I think, is well-justified.”
Both countries inked several agreements on Monday to expand collaboration in the tourism sector. Mr Lee said he hopes that the recent delay in Singapore Airlines’ (SIA) plans to launch a new route linking Singapore, Jakarta and Sydney “will be resolved soon”.
SIA said it put a hold on plans to launch the thrice-weekly Singapore-Jakarta-Sydney route after being told by the Indonesian authorities that Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport had to undergo runway maintenance work.
“The explanation given has been that it has to do with maintenance of the runway at Soekarno-Hatta and we hope that will be completed expeditiously and furthermore, if there is any impact on the airlines, they will be fairly distributed,” said Mr Lee.
He added: “I told the president that if we are going to pursue tourism cooperation, aviation is an important part of this. You must have the aviation links so as to have the tourist numbers, and the volume.”
PM Lee Hsien Loong and Mrs Lee at lunch hosted by President Joko Widodo and Mrs Iriana at Wisma Perdamaian in Semarang, Indonesia on Nov 14, 2016 (Photo: MCI)
BILATERAL RELATIONS ARE GOOD AND PROGRESSING WELL
But overall, the bilateral relations between both countries are good and progressing well, said Mr Lee. He said investments for both countries are growing and they are also looking at new areas of cooperation, including tourism and the digital sector.
Mr Lee said both countries are in discussions on common issues such as the recurrent haze and the threat of terrorism. “There are issues to deal with. Overall I think there is a willingness and desire on both sides to take the relationship forward,” he said.
Tackling the haze is “one of the items high on the president’s agenda”, Mr Lee said, adding that Singapore has offered to help Indonesia deal with the problem.
“President Jokowi explained to me what he was trying to tighten up within Indonesia - tighten up the enforcement, tighten up the laws; make sure that they are operating in a sustainable way. I said: ‘Yes, we’re very grateful. We understand. We can see that you are working at this and it is making a difference.’ And we offered our help to cooperate with them to help them where we can work with the provinces or the regencies."
Mr Lee cited Singapore’s efforts in Jambi which helps farmers to look for sustainable practices.
On terrorism, Mr Lee said both leaders recognised that it is an issue of concern. “They are concerned because they have fighters in ISIS and now that ISIS is in difficulty in the Middle East, the fighters may come back to Indonesia, more of them. That would cause them quite some problems,” said Mr Lee.
But Mr Lee pointed out that there are also other terror groups and it requires both countries to work together to overcome the threats. He added that Singapore had encouraged Indonesia to take the lead and work together with other countries.
“We have encouraged Indonesia to take the lead on this and work together with the other countries so they can share intel and best practices, not just fighting the terrorists, but also dealing with this at the ideological level,” said Mr Lee.