Jakarta-Singapore ties set to flourish further: Indonesian minister

Indonesian Minister for Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi was visiting Singapore at the invitation of her Singapore counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan.
Indonesian Minister for Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi was visiting Singapore at the invitation of her Singapore counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

The strong, wide-ranging ties between Singapore and Indonesia have helped their people prosper, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said yesterday.

These ties look set to flourish further, she said, describing economic relations between both countries as a prime example of what Indonesia would like to achieve with other countries.

Even so, she hopes steps can be taken to boost bilateral trade, which has declined since 2011.

"I cannot stress more on the need for us to make greater efforts to reverse this trend," said Ms Retno, who spoke at a lecture organised by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

She was visiting Singapore at the invitation of her Singapore counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan.

Though trade has dipped, Indonesia was Singapore's fifth largest trading partner last year, while Singapore was Indonesia's third largest trading partner in 2015.

Last year, bilateral trade was $54.2 billion, down from $58.7 billion in 2015.

Though trade has dipped, Indonesia was Singapore's fifth largest trading partner last year, while Singapore was Indonesia's third largest trading partner in 2015. Last year, bilateral trade was $54.2 billion, down from $58.7 billion in 2015.

Meanwhile, investment has flourished - Singapore had US$9.2 billion (S$13.1 billion) worth of investments in Indonesia last year, an increase of more than 55 per cent from US$5.9 billion in 2015.

The relationship between Singapore and Indonesia extends beyond their closely linked economies, Ms Retno said, pointing to vibrant people-to-people exchanges and the close friendship between President Joko Widodo and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The leaders have met six times since Mr Joko took office. Observers predicted Indonesia would turn inward when his term started in 2014, but the past two years have proved them wrong, she said. "Indonesia's foreign policy is anything but inward-looking. Rather than reduce, we have intensified our regional and international engagements."

As one of the world's largest democracies, Indonesia can share its experience and encourage dialogue between countries on democracy, she said.

She cited the Bali Democracy Forum, an intergovernmental forum on developing democracy, which turns 10 this year. A Tunisian Chapter will open this year, and Indonesia hopes to set up more chapters.

Indonesia can also give its take on religious moderation, said Ms Retno. "We are living proof that democracy, Islam and modernity can live together in harmony," she added.

During the lecture, Ms Retno also outlined her country's priorities on foreign policy.

 

A key priority is to protect its territorial integrity. "As the saying goes, good fences make good neighbours," she said to laughter, adding that Indonesia is one of the few countries that has been very active in negotiating and resolving outstanding border issues with its neighbours, including Singapore.

Yesterday, a treaty between Indonesia and Singapore, demarcating a maritime boundary in the eastern part of the Strait of Singapore, went into force - "a special gift" for both countries' golden jubilee, Ms Retno said.

Other priorities include protecting Indonesian nationals living abroad, and strengthening Indonesia's role in the region and the world.

The country will be at the forefront of preserving peace and stability in the region, including in the South China Sea, said Ms Retno.

She also highlighted Indonesia's active role in helping Myanmar address the situation of its troubled Rakhine state, which, if not addressed, will impact the region's security. It has, for instance, built schools and promoted inter-faith dialogue there.

After the lecture, Ms Retno gave reporters her take on the state of bilateral relations. They are in good shape, she said, adding: "It doesn't mean that we don't have problems... The issue is how we manage them, and that problems will not hold hostage the bigger picture of bilateral relations."

Indonesia and Singapore also want to get stakeholders to play a deeper role in shaping bilateral ties, she said.

"It must be beyond government-to-government relations."

Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2017, with the headline 'Jakarta-S'pore ties set to flourish further: Indonesian minister'. Print Edition | Subscribe