Indonesian leaders want closer ties with S'pore: DPM Teo

He says political leaders, including Jokowi and opposition chiefs, want ties to stay stable

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, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said after meeting Indonesian government and opposition leaders here.

"I saw that as a very strong positive," said DPM Teo yesterday as he wrapped up a three-day working visit to Jakarta.

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," Mr Teo said.

He 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 presidential and legislative polls in Indonesia next year.

"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."

Mr Teo said 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.

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 (KIP) in Semarang is one of the highlights of this cooperation," Mr Teo said, referring to a joint township project in Central Java launched by President Joko and PM Lee during their first retreat in November 2016.

Mr Teo said the KIP has the potential to be replicated in other parts of Indonesia where it can serve the local population.

He also likened the project 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," Mr Teo said.

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

Mr 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.

DPM Teo said more Singaporeans need 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," he said .

"And actually if a young person speaks Bahasa, Mandarin 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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2018, with the headline 'Indonesian leaders want closer ties with S'pore: DPM Teo'. Print Edition | Subscribe