JAKARTA - Singapore and Indonesia enjoy strong relations underpinned by mutual confidence and trust, and as both countries recover from the pandemic, there is much more they and their people can do together, Singapore's Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said on Friday (May 20).
On the economic front, businesses can look beyond Batam, Bintan and Karimun, the main islands closest to Singapore collectively known as BBK, and venture to other regions, including Central Java, as well as beyond traditional sectors such as manufacturing and infrastructure to the digital economy and the green economy, he said.
Both sides can also do more to encourage exchanges between their people, especially among students and youth, now that borders are open and flights have resumed, he said, adding that both sides would like to resume greater air connectivity.
Mr Wong was speaking in an interview with Singapore media at the end of his four-day visit to Indonesia, his first since helming the finance portfolio in May 2021.
Mr Wong was also announced as leader of the People's Action Party's fourth-generation, or 4G, team last month, putting him in line to be Singapore's next prime minister - a point noted in Indonesian media reports on his visit this week.
He said his interactions with his counterpart, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, have been very good, and that the visit was a good opportunity for him to meet a broader range of Indonesian leaders, interact with them and get to know them better.
"Overall, on the bilateral front, our relations are certainly in good order. We have had very close cooperation with Indonesia across many fields for many years. In the last two years, we have continued to strengthen our cooperation, especially working together to tackle the pandemic," he said.
"We have also in recent years resolved certain longstanding bilateral issues, namely the agreements we have on extradition, defence and the Flight Information Region. We are now waiting for these agreements to be ratified," he added.
"On the whole, it is a relationship that is underpinned by mutual confidence and trust. On that basis, we can certainly do much more together."
Mr Wong met Dr Sri Mulyani as well as Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan on Friday (May 20).
Earlier in the week, he met several key ministers, including Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan, Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin, State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir, and Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno.
He also met Bank Indonesia governor Perry Warjiyo, Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo, Kendal Regent Dico Ganinduto and Semarang Mayor Hendrar Prihadi.
Their discussions touched on potential cooperation in new areas, among others.
"On the whole, it has been a very fruitful visit. And I look forward to doing my part to build on the strong foundations we have and take our bilateral relations to even greater heights," he said.
In green finance and the green economy, he noted that both Singapore and Indonesia are determined to achieve net-zero emissions and accelerate the green transition.
"Indonesia has many more opportunities to do so, because it has got the ability to embark on more renewable energy projects, and more scale to do so than Singapore," he said.
It also has the opportunity to do nature-based carbon mitigation projects, which Singapore will not be able to do on a similar scale, he added.
Thus, there are opportunities for both sides to work together to finance these projects or collaborate on them. "There are companies, businesses and investors who are interested in this space, and who will be keen to collaborate with Indonesian partners on such projects."
There are similar opportunities for mutually beneficial exchanges in the digital economy, he said, noting that the Indonesian start-up space has become a lot more vibrant in recent years because of the size of the economy and the strong entrepreneurial culture.
He cited Indonesian start-up eFishery, which is part of a growing aquaculture sector.
He noted that Singapore does have research and development on how barramundi and other fish can become more resilient, and on achieving higher productivity on fish farms. "We have limited space, but we can certainly tie up with Indonesian companies to use the technology and expand and do more in Indonesia," he added.
"Indeed, such partnerships are happening in the digital space, in foodtech, in fintech, in a whole range of the digital economy," he said. "The opportunities for collaboration are truly immense."
He also noted similarities in the food culture on both sides, and one businessman hoped there could be more restaurants selling Singapore food in Indonesia.
"That is certainly one area that can help to strengthen cultural and social ties, and perhaps there might even be economic possibilities," Mr Wong said.
And with borders reopening, he hopes direct flights can resume from Singapore to Indonesian destinations such as Semarang.
He said: "The airlines would need some time to catch up with demand. There are constraints with supply and crew, manpower... but they are ramping up, and I hope before too long, we will be able to get the capacity increased and we will be able to resume more direct flights. And hopefully, that will also help to bring down air fares."