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Bilateral Relations Built on Sand?

Updated On: Feb 09, 2007

The head of the Indonesian maritime security coordinating board, Vice Admiral Dioko Sumaryono, was quoted by Jakarta Post as saying that Indonesia’s blanket ban on exports of land sand was a response to Singapore’s foot-dragging over two issues- border agreement and a bilateral extradition treaty. Dioko is responsible for enforcing the ban on sand export.

This ban on sand export comes into effect on 6 February and is likely to adversely affect Singapore who imports six to eight million tones of sand per year fromIndonesia for its construction sector. The Singapore government had put on a brave front, and released stockpile to the construction sector while the construction sector is urged to look for other sources and innovations in construction method to cut down reliance on sand import. 

Since 2003, Indonesia has banned the export of marine sand (which is used in reclamation works). However, the ban has not been effective since some exporters simply claim that the exported sand is coastal sand, rather than marine sand. The blanket ban is likely to simplify enforcement.

Some Indonesian nationalists are concerned that continued sand export will threaten Indonesia’s outer islands, affecting Indonesia’s borders. On the other hand, theSingapore government has assured that all land reclamation is carried out within its territorial boundary.

This concern over territorial boundary is only one possible reason for Indonesia’s ban of sand. The other reason seems to be a desire to pressurise Singapore to agree to an extradition treaty. There is a perception in Indonesia that many corrupt politicians and businessmen are hiding in Singapore and have parked their ill-gotten gains there.

It is still unclear as to the progress of the negotiations of the extradition treaty. A report in the Jakarta Post on 6 February cited Arief Havas Oegroseno, a Foreign Ministry official responsible for overseas treaties as saying that only one more negotiation between Indonesian and Singaporean officials is needed before the draft agreement text is passed onto their respective governments.

However, a Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman has been reported in the Straits Times on 8 February as saying, “I am a little puzzled. There has indeed been progress in the negotiations on an Extradition Treaty but some difficult issues still need to be settled.” The spokesman also pointed out that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had agreed in October 2005 that negotiations on an extradition treaty would be conducted in parallel with a defence cooperation agreement. There has been limited progress on this defence cooperation agreement.

While Singapore’s ties with Indonesia seem to have hit some sandy patch, Singapore’s ties with Thailand are expected to return on track according to Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo.  Speaking at a book launch by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, he pointed out that ties between the two are “extensive and deep-rooted” and goes back a long way.   He also urged the business community and networks such as the SCCCI to continue to work with their counterparts in Thailand to deepen ties on the basis of win-win relationships.

Ties between Singapore and Thailand have been adversely affected after Singapore’s Temasek Holdings bought former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin’s family share in Shin Corp, and the recent private visit by Thaksin to Singapore where he met Deputy Prime Minister Jayakumar. Yeo also emphasized that Singapore “supports the efforts of the present Thai government in quickly restoring constitutional rule based on justice and fairness.”  (8 February 2007)

Sources:

Ties With Thailand Will Be ‘Back on Track’ (Straits Times, 8 February 2007)

S’pore ‘Puzzled’ by Report on Extradition Deal (Straits Times, 8 February 2007)

Government Hopes to Find New Jobs for Sand Miners (Jakarta Post, 7 February 2007)

Navy Starts Overseas Sand Smuggling Crackdown (Jakarta Post, 7 February 2007)

RI, Singapore Agree on Extradition Crimes List (Jakarta Post, 6 February 2007)

Sand Ban ‘Linked to Bilateral Issues With S’pore (Straits Times, 5 February 2007)

Govt to Boost Security to Enforce Sand Ban (Jakarta Post, 3 February 2007)