DPM Teo, Jokowi discuss haze, terrorism

They pledge to work on these and aviation issues as they reaffirm S'pore-Indonesia ties

Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Indonesia's President Joko Widodo yesterday pledged to work together to deal with the decades-old haze crisis, as well as the scourge of terrorism.

Mr Teo had called on Mr Joko at the presidential palace as part of his three-day working visit to Jakarta, which ends today.

At the meeting, Mr Teo and the President reaffirmed the ties between Singapore and Indonesia, and also discussed, among other things, how the two countries can strengthen the relationship between their militaries and enhance cooperation in counter-terrorism.

On the matter of the Flight Information Region (FIR) issue, the leaders agreed that the priority should be safety, efficiency and the smooth operation of the airspace.

Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, had said on Monday after a meeting with Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan, that the issue was a technical one based on aviation safety, not sovereignty.

The FIR, which Singapore controls for take-off, landing and overflights in the region, became a prickly subject after the Indonesian Air Force took issue with Singapore's military activities in the airspace above the Riau Islands.

Singapore, however, has been in control of flights over some areas in Riau since 1946. This, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said yesterday, was approved by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi confirmed after yesterday's talks that Mr Joko has plans for Indonesia to take over management of the airspace. However, she agreed that the FIR was not about sovereignty but a matter of safety and whether Indonesia has developed the capacity to manage the overflights.

"The preparations (according to Indonesia's own road map) are ongoing but they cannot be done in a month or a year," said Ms Retno.

Mr Teo also told Mr Joko that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is looking forward to visiting Indonesia next year. Both leaders would then continue discussions on further strengthening the bilateral relationship, including through the six Working Groups on economic cooperation, said the MFA.

Mr Luhut and Mr Teo had, over dinner on Monday, also discussed a range of bilateral and international defence and security issues as well as the haze crisis.

Both ministers agreed that preventive measures are key to avoiding a repeat of this year's crisis, said to be the worst on record.

Last month, Singapore sent a fire-fighting team to Indonesia’s South Sumatra province and Mr Teo reiterated that Singapore remains ready to assist Indonesia again, if needed.

Mr Luhut said Indonesia appreciates the help but assured Mr Teo that more will be done to prevent a recurrence.

Correction note: An earlier version of this article said that in October, Singapore sent a fire-fighting assistance team to Indonesia's Jambi province to help put out the fires, when in fact the fire-fighting assistance team was sent to South Sumatra province. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2015, with the headline 'DPM Teo, Jokowi discuss haze, terrorism'. Print Edition | Subscribe