Singapore-Indonesia ties in excellent state, says Vivian Balakrishnan

Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan in a meeting with Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi on Feb 14, 2018. Minister Balakrishnan was on a two-day working visit to Jakarta, Indonesia, from February 13 to 14, 2018, during which he also met Minister of Industry Airlangga Hartarto and Governor of the Special Capital Region of Jakarta Dr Anies Baswedan. FACEBOOK/DR VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN

JAKARTA - Negotiations for a bilateral investment treaty between Indonesia and Singapore will begin later this month and talks on a double taxation agreement are set to start soon.

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Wednesday (Feb14) referred to these when he spoke about how the Indonesia-Singapore leaders' retreats in recent years had helped enhance bilateral cooperation.

He said: "First it gives the highest level of government, in this case our top leaders a chance to meet, discuss things in a relaxed and informal setting, build trust, strengthen the relationship, explore ideas.

"Secondly, these retreats also convey a sense of urgency in the timetable for all the civil servants and the private sector involved in these projects."

Dr Balakrishnan was speaking to the Singapore media at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Jakarta, as he wrapped up a two-day working visit to Indonesia which included a meeting with his counterpart Retno Marsudi earlier in the day.

"I came here primarily to review the state of our bilateral relations and I'm very glad to say that they are in an excellent state," Dr Balakrishnan said.

The Singapore foreign minister on Wednesday also met Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan, who oversees many aspects of relations with Singapore, and opposition coalition chief, Prabowo Subianto.

On Tuesday (Feb 13), Dr Balakrishnan called on former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Industry Minister Airlangga Hartarto, and they discussed regional developments as well as other issues.

Mr Airlangga, Mr Prabowo and Dr Yudhoyono are also leaders of major political parties in Indonesia.

Campaigning for this year's local elections kick off on Thursday (Feb 15) around the vast archipelago but domestic politics was not on the agenda when Dr Balakrishnan met the three top political leaders.

During the interview, however, Dr Balakrishnan said he was confident that the polls would be held in a "safe, stable and quiet" way.

He said: "Frankly, I'm confident that this will be so because Indonesia has made tremendous progress over the last few decades, and I dare say if you take a step back you look at how it has progressed over the last two decades or even more, what they have achieved is amazing and we should congratulate them."

On Wednesday, Dr Balakrishnan and Ms Retno provided updates on the status of joint projects announced at the last two retreats.

Ms Retno said that the polytechnic Singapore was establishing with Indonesia to train workers in Semarang, in Central Java, was "77 per cent ready".

The polytechnic in the joint venture Kendal Industrial Park (KIP) was first announced at the Leaders' Retreat between President Joko Widodo and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Singapore last September.

Ms Retno on Wednesday also disclosed that four more tenants had signed up to operate in the KIP, bringing to 36 the total number of firms in the park - run by Indonesia's Jababeka and Singapore's Sembcorp - since it was launched in November 2016.

Dr Balakrishnan, for his part, said there has been more investor interest and the KIP should generate about 5,000 jobs.

Ms Retno also referred to progress in several other areas in bilateral cooperation, including in the digital sphere.

"We also have a partnership to build a "digital bridge" in Batam with one company and, it will be launched in mid-March, so there is progress again," she said.

Indonesia will host the third Leaders' Retreat between Mr Joko and Mr Lee later this year.

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