Singapore 'respects Indonesia's sovereignty'

Dr Ng Eng Hen (right) calling on Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Panjaitan on Monday. During the talks, Dr Ng raised the SAF's offer to help Indonesia deal with forest fires.
Dr Ng Eng Hen (right) calling on Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Panjaitan on Monday. During the talks, Dr Ng raised the SAF's offer to help Indonesia deal with forest fires.PHOTO: MINDEF

That applies to airspace control, air force training areas and haze crisis, Ng Eng Hen tells ministers in Jakarta

Singapore respects Indonesia's sovereignty with regard to airspace control, training areas over the South China Sea and even the current haze crisis, which Singapore has offered to help resolve.

That was the key message Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen has conveyed to his Indonesian counterpart Ryamizard Ryacudu and Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Panjaitan, at high-level talks on Monday in Jakarta.

"We had very good meetings and both sides saw eye to eye on the basis of our long-term relationship... based on mutual respect and regard for each other's sovereignty and well-being," he said.

Dr Ng, who retained the defence portfolio in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's new Cabinet announced on Monday, was speaking to The Straits Times yesterday at the end of his working visit.

He told both ministers that he was aware of comments by Indonesian officials over the Flight Information Region (FIR), which Singapore controls for take-off, landing and over-flights in the region.

The Indonesian Air Force recently complained about Singapore's military activities in the airspace above the Riau Islands.

It said a bilateral military pact that allows such activities had expired in 2001 and was never renewed due to objections by Indonesian lawmakers and concerns over national sovereignty.

Dr Ng, however, said he sought to assure Indonesia that Singapore did not disregard Indonesia's sovereignty with respect to the FIR, training by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) or even the haze crisis.

Singapore has been in control of flights in the airspace above some areas in Riau since 1946, and Dr Ng said the current set of agreements was approved by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

"With regard to RSAF training, I took pains to explain to them that our flight training... was in full compliance with international agreements, specifically Unclos," said

Dr Ng, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

He added that the RSAF has been training over the South China Sea since the 1960s - before the Unclos was ratified by countries such as Singapore and Indonesia.

"And before we ratified the Unclos agreement, we were very careful to ensure that our training in the South China Sea will be preserved as we sign on the agreement," he said. "So we fully respected their sovereignty but the overall message was that our relationship with Indonesia was a longstanding one.

"We have benefited each other... over the past few decades because there was mutual regard and respect for each other's sovereignty as well as well-being."

During the talks, Dr Ng also raised the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) offer to help Indonesia deal with the raging forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra.

Indonesia has been grappling with the transboundary haze crisis, which was caused by illegal forest fires in the two territories.

Dr Ng said he had made the offer on the basis of Singapore's close relationship with Indonesia.

"And it was in that context that I reiterated the SAF's offer to assist in the haze," he said.

"But of course, fully respecting Indonesia's sovereignty, it is up to them to activate our help and our help stands ready."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2015, with the headline 'Singapore 'respects Indonesia's sovereignty''. Print Edition | Subscribe