PM Lee and Jokowi to meet in person for Leaders' Retreat, possibly in Bintan

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) and Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) and Indonesian President Joko Widodo.PHOTOS: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION, REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will be meeting in person for the Leaders' Retreat this year, and possibly, on the holiday island of Bintan.

At a joint press conference in Jakarta on Thursday (March 25), Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi discussed forging ways to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic together and preparations for the annual Leaders' Retreat later this year.

"This annual meeting signifies the strategic importance of Indonesia-Singapore bilateral relations and provides a platform for both countries to chart the way forward in key areas of cooperation," said Ms Retno.

The ministers also spoke about "cautious preparations" for reviving the travel and tourism sectors which have been badly wrecked by the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Balakrishnan said he met Indonesian Minister for Tourism and Creative Economy Sandiaga Uno in Jakarta on Thursday and discussed "gradual and safe" reopening of travel arrangements as the Covid-19 situation improves.

"We are looking at areas of mutual interest and I think in our earlier discussion, we had looked particularly at Bintan and perhaps that has been a site for which we could convene our Leaders' Retreat," he said.

"The Leaders' Retreat will proceed this year, watch out for the date, but our two leaders will meet in person, and they have got a full agenda ahead of them."

Mr Lee last met Mr Widodo in Singapore on Oct 8, 2019, for the Leaders' Retreat.

They have not had a retreat since due to the pandemic.

Ms Retno said she was "very glad" to have the Travel Corridor Arrangement, or TCA, in place to facilitate official and essential business travellers, and hopes it will continue to operate.

She stressed that the health and the safety of travellers were paramount, and as such, any pilot projects on border reopening for the purpose of tourism must be carried out "in a safe, gradual and cautious manner".

Ms Retno added that the two countries could work together in the areas of investments and digital economy. She said the Nongsa Digital Park in Batam has been granted the status of Special Economic Zone on March 2, and hopes to see the two countries work more closely in this area.

"Indonesia has a promising digital ecosystem. On the other hand, Singapore has the know-how and network to develop this sector. We have to bridge these potentials," she said.

To this, Dr Balakrishnan said the Nongsa park was a "digital bridge from Singapore to Batam", and he saw "great prospects for that bridge to become a vibrant connector, electronic and human connector, that will harvest opportunities for young people" in the two countries.

Singapore has been Indonesia's top foreign investor since 2014, with investments totalling US$9.8 billion (S$13.2 billion) last year.

Dr Balakrishnan also touched on bilateral projects including the Kendal Industrial Park in Central Java, which he said has been progressing well. He said there is now a need to promote the development of a port to support the industrial park's development.

He cited how a treaty between Singapore and Indonesia had been ratified on March 9, laying down the rules on how investors and investments from both countries would be treated.

"It reflects our vote of confidence in Indonesia, in the prospects for economic growth and confidence in Indonesia's future and this happens even in the time of crisis," he said.

The past year, he said, had been a very challenging period for both Indonesia and Singapore due to the pandemic, but the two neighbours had been "good, steady and reliable partners throughout both good times and tough times".

Dr Balakrishnan's meeting with Ms Retno on Thursday kicked off a two-day working visit to reaffirm the strong relations between the two countries.