Indonesia and Singapore leaders hail excellent partnership

Singapore and Indonesia yesterday vowed to deepen economic ties as their leaders kept up a tradition of meeting retreat- style each year, this time at the Shangri-La Hotel.

The strong personal ties at the highest levels between Asean's largest member state and its smallest were also celebrated at a ceremony at which the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) conferred on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono an honorary doctorate. He is the first Indonesian leader to receive such an honour.

Expressing satisfaction with the "excellent economic partnership" between their two countries, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Dr Yudhoyono also encouraged their private sectors to collaborate on projects under Indonesia's development masterplan, in a joint statement issued after their Leaders' Retreat.

These will build on the progress made by six working groups on the economy, that have already increased the flow of investments into special economic zones in Batam, Bintan and Karimun, and expanded air links.

Looking beyond next year, when Dr Yudhoyono will step down after completing his second term, both leaders also said they will work towards ensuring that the cooperation continues.

Speaking to Singapore journalists, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: "He (Dr Yudhoyono) expressed the importance of our institutionalising our cooperation so that the good work which we have done together will be carried forward and taken further by whoever succeeds him."

Dr Yudhoyono and his wife Ibu Ani, who arrived here yesterday, were also hosted to lunch by President Tony Tan Keng Yam and his wife Mary.

When Mr Lee met Dr Yudhoyono later, they discussed the issue of transboundary haze, and agreed to the renewal of a pact between Singapore and the provincial government in South Sumatra on sustainable farming practices.

"He (Dr Yudhoyono) said he would encourage the governors of South Sumatra and of Jambi... to continue working with us, because the haze problem continues," Mr Lee said.

Both have also directed officials to speed up talks on delimiting the maritime boundary between the two countries in the eastern part of the Strait of Singapore and to work closely to combat terrorism.

At the regional level, the two countries cooperate in ongoing efforts to forge a peaceful way forward in the South China Sea where there are territorial disputes between China and four Asean member states, and the building of an Asean Economic Community by the end of 2015.

Yesterday, both sides' foreign affairs ministries also signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate in diplomatic education and training.

The evening was capped by a dinner hosted by Mr and Mrs Lee for Dr Yudhoyono, his wife and their delegation.

Earlier in the day, in a speech at the NTU ceremony, Dr Yudhoyono thanked Singaporeans for extending their hand of friendship to the tens of thousands of Indonesian professionals, students and domestic workers here.

He said: "This people-to-people link is by far the greatest asset in the very close bilateral relations between our two countries."

The next Leaders' Retreat will be in Indonesia next year.