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Better Singapore-Indonesia bilateral ties – beyond economics

Updated On: Aug 25, 2006

When Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited Singapore to attract investments to Indonesia, he was in effect highlighting the importance ofSingapore for his administration’s economic programs.

And to show that Singapore is supportive of Indonesia’s economic plans, Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew made a visit to Batam yesterday (24 Aug 06) to reiterate the importance of ensuring the success of the Riau Islands Special Economic Zones (SEZs).

Singapore and Indonesia inked a new economic agreement in June to revitalize the Riau islands of Batam, Bintan and Karimun.

But Singapore also wants to move beyond pure economics, into areas of military cooperation. For 30 years, Singapore and Indonesia has had a series of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) to build up their military ties.

During the latest joint military exercise between the two states held on 23 August 2006 at Tanjung PeriokIndonesia’s state-linked media noted that “Indonesia andSingapore have carried out joint military exercises in the Military Training Area (MTA) since 2000. The two countries have agreed to launch joint military exercises in MTA I in Tanjung Pinang waters and MTA II in the South China Sea.”

But perhaps the most important symbol of closeness in military ties between the two states would come with a new Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) that is highly sought after by Singapore. The DCA was being negotiated in parallel with an extradition treaty that is in turn highly sought after by the Indonesians. Both countries are currently in their fourth round of negotiations, and while some difficulties continued to plague the negotiations though both countries are also confident that they could be resolved with greater understanding of each other’s concerns.

To resolve issues of contention that pop up from time to time, the leaders of both countries have also adopted a gradualist approach, increasing bilateral relationship one step at a time with each item of cooperation. And the cooperative list looks set to grow longer given the effort of the two countries. 

After this two day official visit to Indonesia, Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean noted: 'When we have occasion to work together from time to time...these relationships and friendships help us work better.'  Teo expressed his optimism for a successful outcome of the negotiation: 'I am confident that when we sit down and understand each other's concerns better, we ought to be able to come to some kind of solution.' His Indonesian counterpart seems to agree. "The traditional working relationship between our officers in almost two generations of officers from the tri-services - the army, navy and air force - is one of the best that we've had in any bilateral cooperation," said Indonesian Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono. 

Sources:

Singapore “sets great store by Jakarta ties” (Straits Times, 25 August 2006)

Riau SEZs have problems, but they can be solved: MM” (Straits Times, 25 August 2006)

Indonesia and S'pore benefit from close ties (Straits Times, 24 August 2006)

S'pore to push for defence accord with Indonesia (Straits Times, 23 August 2006)

Singapore committed to strengthening defense cooperation with RI  (Antara, 23 August 2006)

Indonesia, Singapore finalising details of defence cooperation pact (Channel News Asia, 22 August 2006)