Singapore and Indonesia looking out for new opportunities to work together: Vivian Balakrishnan

Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan (left) speaking with Indonesian President Joko Widodo. PHOTO: CABINET SECRETARIAT

JAKARTA - Singapore and Indonesia are on the lookout for opportunities to work together more closely in infrastructure, investment and human resource development - three areas Indonesian President Joko Widodo has flagged as crucial to helping his country weather turbulence in the global economy.

The age of digital disruption and shifts in global value chains will bring challenges - but it also offers fresh opportunities, said Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Thursday (July 18).

He was speaking to Singapore media as he wrapped up a three-day working visit to Jakarta, which included a meeting with his counterpart Retno Marsudi, as well as a call on Mr Joko.

The trip, he said, gave him the opportunity to gain a deeper appreciation of Mr Joko's priorities as the president gets set to start his second term in October.

In his first speech since his re-election, Mr Joko outlined last Sunday some key areas he would focus on in the five years ahead to make the country more "productive and competitive" amid rapid and unpredictable changes around the world.

On Thursday, Dr Balakrishnan noted: "We are at a point in time globally where people are reviewing their supply chains."

"This is an opportunity for both Indonesia and Singapore to work more closely together to attract investments, and to attract this vital global supply chain."

Some of the collaborations between Singapore and Indonesia were reviewed in the meetings while Dr Balakrishnan was in Jakarta.

The Singapore Foreign Minister noted that Kendal Industrial Park in Semarang, a joint venture between Singapore's Sembcorp Development and Indonesia's industrial estate developer PT Jababeka, is doing well.

Over half a billion US dollars in investments had flowed into the industrial park, jobs were being created, and Singapore has worked with Indonesia on establishing a polytechnic in the area to provide workers with the skills needed.

The leaders honed in on infrastructure, investment, and human resource development as key areas for further collaboration, said Dr Balakrishnan.

"Both the president and foreign minister agreed these are areas where we should work together and work more closely together," he said. "So we are preparing for the Leaders' Retreat to identify new areas where we can do more together."

The date for the next Leaders' Retreat, which is set to take place in Singapore, has yet to be fixed.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "We'll get the homework done, and we want to make sure that our efforts dovetail with the president's own priorities at the domestic front as well."

Under President Joko, Indonesia has made a big push for vocational education and is looking to ramp up its training capacity.

Singapore is well-placed to lend a hand in this, said Dr Balakrishnan.

They can work together more, for instance, on train-the-trainer initiatives which will help Indonesia scale up its own training capacity, he said.

"We really have an excellent vocational training sector in Singapore, and all the foreign visitors who have come to see our ITEs have been deeply impressed," he added.

Dr Balakrishnan said the key thing is to match skills to the emerging jobs, pointing out that just as Singapore is focused on this domestically, restructuring its economy and introducing initiatives such as the national SkillsFuture programme to encourage lifelong learning, "these same lessons that we glean from this journey are also relevant to our neighbourhood".

New opportunities could also arise in the future.

Ms Retno told reporters on Wednesday there had been some talk about cooperation on aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul facilities in Batam, Bintan and Karimun, what is collectively known as the BBK free trade zone.

Dr Balakrishnan declined to go into details on this specifically, but said that "interesting prospects" are opening up in the area.

Singapore has long been engaged in BBK, he said, adding: "I'm glad to see that there's renewed interest."

While further regulatory reform is needed within Batam and Bintan, Mr Joko has assured that this is well under way, added Dr Balakrishnan.

He said: "We think this would present opportunities, new investments, new services to be developed, and because we are so close, and in a sense integrated with Batam and Bintan, we will work closely with Indonesia on these emerging opportunities."

"So, watch that space."

The two foreign ministers also discussed the Flight Information Region over the Riau Islands, which Singapore currently manages.

There has been progress, particularly in the discussions between Singapore's Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan and his counterpart Budi Karya Sumadi, said Dr Balakrishnan.

"This is not a question of sovereignty, and I'm glad that Minister Retno has also emphasised that. It's basically about improving safety and efficiency in one of the busiest and growing air sectors in the world," he said.

"We are having good discussions between the ministers of transport and between the civil aviation authorities, but the key point is this: any changes must result in better safety, higher efficiency, and that's what we're focused on."

On Thursday morning Dr Balakrishnan called on vice-president-elect Ma'ruf Amin. They discussed the multi-faceted and deep historical ties between their two countries, and reaffirmed the importance of combatting extremism and radicalisation, and of strengthening social cohesion.

The foreign minister also had a meeting with Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan, in which they welcomed the positive momentum in bilateral relations, and looked forward to more collaboration in the future.

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