Indonesian leaders 'happy with bilateral relations' and want closer ties with Singapore: DPM Teo

Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean calling on Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the Istana Merdeka, on July 19, 2018.
Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean calling on Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the Istana Merdeka, on July 19, 2018.PHOTO: BUREAU OF PRESS AND MEDIA OF THE PRESIDENTIAL SECRETARIAT, INDONESIA

JAKARTA - A wide spectrum of political leaders in Indonesia want closer ties with Singapore and this augurs well for the strengthening of bilateral relations in the future, Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said after meeting government and opposition leaders here.

"I saw that as a very strong positive," said DPM Teo as he wrapped up a three-day working visit to Jakarta on Friday (July 20).

He said leaders he had met this week, including President Joko Widodo, opposition chief Prabowo Subianto and People's Consultative Assembly speaker Zulkifli Hasan, were "happy with bilateral relations" and expressed the desire for ties to remain good and stable.  

"And that is very important, because if there is a whole spectrum of political leaders in Indonesia who wish to do that, I think that's very useful for strengthening bilateral relations for the future," the deputy prime minister said.

DPM Teo also said that the Singapore delegation gained useful insights from Indonesian leaders on domestic politics, and the relative importance of economic issues versus identity politics, ahead of the 2019 presidential and legislative polls.

"All of them also assured us that the upcoming elections will be smooth and will be peaceful, and they took the example of what happened in the recent Pilkada, their local elections, where there were 171 different contests going on and that proceeded smoothly and also very peacefully," he said.

"And certainly, we hope for smooth and peaceful elections in Indonesia as well," he added.

DPM Teo was accompanied on the visit by the Minister of State for National Development and Manpower Zaqy Mohamad, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade and Industry Tan Wu Meng, MPs Joan Pereira and Henry Kwek, and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The purpose of the visit was to prepare for the next Leaders' Retreat between President Joko and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Oct 11 in Bali, said DPM Teo.

The retreat will be the third one in as many years between the two leaders following the success of their meeting in Singapore last year where the countries marked 50 years of bilateral relations.

"We have had good outcomes from the last Leaders' Retreat, and the Kendal Industrial Park in Semarang is one of the highlights of this cooperation," DPM Teo said, referring to a joint township project just outside the capital of Central Java.

Better known as KIP or Park by the Bay, the project was first launched by President Joko and PM Lee during their first retreat in November 2016.

More than 40 tenants have signed up with the park which has attracted about US$500 million in investments and created 5,700 jobs.

A polytechnic set up in the KIP to train local workers for the furniture and wood processing industry, will also commence courses in October with around 100 students.

DPM Teo said the KIP has the potential to be replicated in other parts of Indonesia where it can serve the local population and match the aspirations of the local provincial governments with its achievements.

He likened the KIP to similar industrial parks Singapore has jointly developed in Vietnam.

"We started with just one outside Ho Chi Minh City, we now have seven in Vietnam, with many of the provinces in Vietnam very, very enthusiastic about having these industrial parks," DPM Teo said.

"So I think that with good success in Kendal, we can see how we can replicate it to other places."

DPM Teo also spoke of progress in negotiations for a bilateral investment treaty between Indonesia and Singapore, with another round of discussions due to take place later this month.

"The double taxation agreement between our two countries, which is almost 30 years old, is also something which I suggested that we should look at, and the Indonesians are receptive," he said.

While in Jakarta, the Singapore delegation also met young Singaporeans working in Indonesia, including many on internships taken through the Economic Development Board.

DPM Teo said Singapore needed more of its young people to look within the region for opportunities instead of more developed markets elsewhere.

"We need to understand the region well, learn the language, get steeped in the culture and also see how we can expand our opportunities in the region, and not just look at markets in the developed world," he said . "And actually if a young person speaks Bahasa, Chinese and English, I think he will be a very, very valuable person to any company and to any future that he has."

Correction note: This story has been edited for clarity.