Cementing ties for the long haul

Cementing ties for the long haul

SINGAPORE - Indonesia and Singapore have agreed to work together to institutionalise their cooperation such that the work done by both sides over the years will carry on even after Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono steps down next year.

Speaking to the media after his closed-door retreat with Dr Yudhoyono on Monday, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke of the strong bilateral relations that the two ASEAN neighbours currently enjoy. Mr Lee noted that the bilateral and economic cooperation were reviewed, and investments on both ends were doing well.

There has also been progress in boosting air connectivity links, with an increased number of flights between Singapore and Indonesia resulting in more tourism and business activities.

Cooperation on the agricultural front is also moving along smoothly as Singapore is now importing more fruits and vegetables from Indonesia, with the potential to do more in this area, said Mr Lee.

As for the perennial haze problem, Mr Lee expressed the wish that a lapsed agreement with Jambi in southern Sumatra could be renewed soon, to allow both sides to work together to find ways to mitigate the haze issue.

Both Singapore and Indonesia are also working hard on counter-terrorism efforts. And on Monday, at the close of their retreat, their respective foreign ministers inked a new deal to cooperate on diplomatic education and training.

"I told (Dr Yudhoyono) that I very much look forward to meeting him next year, in Indonesia, for our next retreat," said Mr Lee, adding that the two leaders wanted to work together to ensure a strong foundation for Dr Yudhoyono's successor to build upon.

Singapore remains Indonesia's top foreign investor, with realised foreign direct investment of up to US$4.9 billion last year, the bulk of it going to the special economic zones. Indonesia was also Singapore's third-largest trading partner last year, with total trade amounting to S$79.4 billion, up from S$78 billion in 2011.

Earlier in the day, Dr Yudhoyono said in a speech that the strong people-to-people links was "by far the biggest asset" in Indonesia's relationship with Singapore.

Latest figures show that there are about 138,000 Indonesians living in Singapore, about three quarters of them here as domestic workers. The rest are students and professionals.

"They are a vibrant community in their own right, and once they return to Indonesia, they carry their experience and expertise to further contribute to Indonesia's development," said Dr Yudhoyono after being conferred an honorary doctorate by the Nanyang Technological University.

Dr Yudhoyono said that he had "high hopes" that Indonesia could continue its partnership with Singapore well beyond his leadership.

"Like Indonesia, Singapore has much to offer to the world. Singapore has the most advanced economy in Southeast Asia. It is an essential member of ASEAN and has become a valuable global member. Much is riding on our positive relations, not just from the bilateral standpoint but also for our common and regional global interest," he said.

It was a packed day of meetings for Dr Yudhoyono upon his arrival in Singapore on Monday morning. He had lunch with President Tony Tan Keng Yam and his wife Mary before the doctorate conferment ceremony at the Shangri-la Hotel. Mr Lee and Dr Yudhoyono then had a private meeting, followed by dinner.

Dr Yudhoyono will take part in a Thomson Reuters newsmaker dialogue this morning before departing for Myanmar, the second stop on his three-nation tour of Southeast Asia.


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