Strong economic ties between Singapore and Indonesia got another boost yesterday as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Joko Widodo officially opened a joint venture township project and witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on tourism cooperation.
The leaders held up the 2,700ha Park by the Bay township project between SembCorp Development and Indonesian developer Jababeka in Kendal, Central Java, as an excellent example of mutually beneficial economic cooperation. The township is located 25km from Semarang.
They also welcomed the signing of three other MOUs and the setting up of an Indonesia-Singapore Business Council comprising business leaders from both sides.
"This (business council) will enable our businesses to network more deeply and understand opportunities on both sides," PM Lee said and suggested that it be co-chaired by the Economic Development Board and Indonesia's Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM).
The occasion was PM Lee's first Leaders' Retreat with President Joko, which is held in Indonesia this year. Yesterday morning, PM Lee and Mrs Lee were met by President Joko and First Lady Iriana at Wisma Perdamaian in Semarang, where the Singapore delegation was also treated to performances by a Chinese lion dance troupe and traditional Javanese dancers.
The retreat - held at Wisma Perdamaian, formerly the Central Java governor's residence - is a long- held tradition for the leaders of the two close neighbours to meet informally each year to boost ties.
At their meeting, the two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening ties and to further economic cooperation between their countries.
Indonesia, PM Lee told a joint press conference with Mr Joko after the retreat, is a close partner and neighbour of Singapore.
"Our bilateral relations are in good shape, we have close interactions at all levels," he said.
"I told the President we are keen to strengthen our economic cooperation with Indonesia and we would like Indonesia to succeed."
Turning to the perennial issue of the transboundary haze, he noted that combating it was high on Mr Joko's agenda and said Singapore was "very grateful".
Indonesia's efforts in tackling the haze "made a difference this year", he added. He offered Singapore's help to deal with the problem, which he said affects all the countries in South-east Asia.
The two leaders also discussed the terrorism threat, which both countries have been "cooperating, mostly quietly" to counter.
"I thank the President for Indonesia's initiative in identifying and tracking down and arresting Gigih's group in Batam," he said in reference to Gigih Rahmat Dewa, the leader of a Batam terrorist cell. His plot to fire a rocket from the Indonesian island of Batam to Marina Bay in Singapore was foiled by Indonesian police in August. "But there are other groups as well and we need to work together on this," he said.
Mr Joko agreed that the meetings at the retreat were productive and open, and said he looked forward to greater economic cooperation with Singapore.
He also acknowledged that Singapore - Indonesia's top foreign investor last year - had increased its investments in Indonesia despite the global economic slowdown. "We hope Singapore investment will continue to increase, including in Batam and Kendal," he added.