Leaders' Retreat: Singapore, Indonesia set up framework to discuss airspace management and military training

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Indonesian President Joko Widodo during a joint press conference at the Singapore-Indonesia Leaders’ Retreat at the Istana on Oct 8, 2019. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Singapore and Indonesia have agreed on a framework to discuss two longstanding issues - airspace management and military training.

Both leaders have also instructed their ministers and officials to follow up with detailed negotiations on the basis of this framework, and to conclude and implement agreements in a timely manner, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

"This framework acknowledges that the core interests and rights of both countries must be recognised and respected. And that Indonesia and Singapore should negotiate agreements on these two issues that are durable and for the long haul," he said yesterday after meeting Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the Singapore-Indonesia Leaders' Retreat.

At a joint news conference, both leaders spoke of robust cooperation in a range of areas, including defence and security. They also gave updates on the issue of the Flight Information Region (FIR) over the Riau Islands, which is currently managed by Singapore, and military training in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

Indonesia is seeking a return of airspace that Singapore air traffic controllers have managed since 1946 under international arrangements to ensure aviation safety.

PM Lee said he told Mr Joko that because they have built up a good relationship, he would like the countries to start working on the two issues in an "open and constructive manner".

PM Lee added that both sides' ministers and officials have held preliminary discussions over the last few months, and have agreed on a framework laying out the core principles and considerations concerning these matters.

He said the framework offers a "sound and comprehensive basis" to work out solutions to the two issues, separately but concurrently.

Mr Joko said Indonesia also welcomes the framework. He added: "Indonesia respects the position of Singapore, which understands Indonesia's wish to oversee its own airspace. Our technical team has started negotiations, we encourage the negotiations to be speedily achieved with concrete results."

A report in The Jakarta Post noted that the framework says that, among others, Indonesia and Singapore are committed to reaching an agreement on FIRs and on military training in the South China Sea.

It also states that both countries recognise that "FIRs are not about sovereignty but the safety and efficiency of air traffic" and acknowledge that "military training in the South China Sea is governed by Article 51 of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos)".

It also shows the negotiating positions of the two sides.

Indonesia wants Singapore to respect "Indonesia's sovereignty over its territory, including its territorial waters, archipelagic waters and its airspace", and "to understand Indonesia's strong desire to align the FIR in a timely manner which corresponds to its terri-torial sovereignty".

Singapore, meanwhile, requires Indonesia "to fully respect and recognise Singapore's rights to conduct military training in the South China Sea in accordance with Article 51", and to understand that Singapore's interests include the present and future requirements of Changi Airport.

On the defence front, PM Lee noted that defence relations are robust and have continued to grow from strength to strength. He cited the full calendar of exercises and exchanges, including Exercise Safkar Indopura, which was held last month between both armies, and the 20th anniversary of Exercise Camar Indopura, a joint air maritime surveillance exercise.

PM Lee said he was glad to see both sides deepening the relationship through joint counter-terrorism exercises and support of the Asean Our Eyes initiative, an Indonesian-led platform for counter-terrorism intelligence-sharing.

To further cooperation, Indonesia's Ministry of Defence (Kemhan) and Singapore's Ministry of Defence (Mindef) agreed to institutionalise the Kemhan-Mindef Interaction Programme, an annual mechanism for bilateral exchange.

The initiative will allow both countries' defence ministries to regularly exchange insights and perspectives, and strengthen bilateral defence relations, said Mindef.

Following a series of joint counter-terrorism exercises from 2017 to last year, the Singapore Armed Forces and the Indonesian Armed Forces will also conduct a counter-terrorism field training exercise in Indonesia next year.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 09, 2019, with the headline Leaders' Retreat: Singapore, Indonesia set up framework to discuss airspace management and military training. Subscribe