Indonesia, Singapore mark 50 years of bilateral ties

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Joko Widodo viewing a joint fly-past by the Singapore and Indonesian air forces yesterday to mark 50 years of diplomatic relations, along with Mrs Lee and First Lady Iriana. Also present was Defence Minist
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Joko Widodo viewing a joint fly-past by the Singapore and Indonesian air forces yesterday to mark 50 years of diplomatic relations, along with Mrs Lee and First Lady Iriana. Also present was Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen (far left, background).ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Two countries are neighbours by geography but partners by choice, says PM Lee

Singapore and Indonesia marked 50 years of diplomatic ties at a Leaders' Retreat yesterday by declaring they would remain "trusted partners, RISING together".

While RISING - RI for Republic of Indonesia and SING for Singapore - was coined by diplomats to mark the jubilee, the leaders of the two nations also declared a desire to be friends for the long haul.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his toast at an Istana lunch in honour of Indonesian President Joko Widodo, said that while the two countries are neighbours by geography, they are partners by choice, and both are committed to broadening and deepening cooperation.

He noted earlier that generations of leaders from both sides had taken a long-term and win-win approach to cooperate for mutual benefit and solve problems amicably and rationally. "As a result, today we have a strong partnership based on mutual trust and respect," he said.

His words were echoed by President Joko, in Singapore for his second retreat with PM Lee in as many years, as the two leaders look to take ties forward. "We are neighbours by God's will, by geography, but we are and always will be good neighbours and close friends by choice," said Mr Joko. "To this end, it is essential to always ensure that our next 50 years of cooperation is one that is based on mutual trust and mutual confidence, and brings equal and mutual benefit to our peoples."

The leaders held a "four-eye" meeting before a high-powered Indonesian delegation sat down with their Singapore counterparts for bilateral talks yesterday morning.

 

Mr Lee said he and Mr Joko had a "good meeting", and believes their countries can do more together.

 

"Our bilateral relationship can only continue to deepen and benefit our two peoples if it is supported by close rapport between the leaders," he said. "I am therefore glad that President Jokowi and I have a constructive working relationship."

 

The leaders also noted the strong existing cooperation in trade, investment and tourism, and affirmed both sides' readiness to start talks on a new Bilateral Investment Treaty.

 

Mr Lee said at a joint press conference earlier that he appreciated Mr Joko's personal efforts in tackling forest and land fires, and expressed Singapore's commitment to work with Indonesia to address the transboundary haze issue as well as on counter-terrorism.

On regional cooperation, Mr Joko reiterated the importance of the two countries in Asean. They were two of the five founding members when Asean was formed in 1967.

"Next year, Singapore will become the chair of Asean. I have expressed Indonesia's support for Singapore's chairmanship," said Mr Joko. "Asean unity and centrality must always be our chief concern so that Asean remains relevant for its members and its people."

Mr Joko said that while the future holds many new challenges, he was "glad that the discussion... with PM Lee was focused on our cooperation ahead, including the development of the digital economy".

Nine memoranda of understanding were signed, including one between the Singapore Civil Defence Force and Indonesia's National Disaster Management Authority.

Singapore and Indonesia have reaped the benefits of close cooperation in the past 50 years, noted Mr Jonathan Chen, an associate research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

"Although the political landscape of both countries has changed since, both continue to pursue a strong bilateral relationship based on shared interests, be it in the context of regional organisations like Asean or cooperation in trade, business and growth," said Mr Chen.

Both also stand to gain more by their complementarities than their differences. "If this can be achieved, it is likely that the next 50 years of bilateral ties will be just as celebrated."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2017, with the headline 'Indonesia, S'pore mark 50 years of bilateral ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe