A major step foward, says PM Lee as Singapore and Indonesia ink agreements on tech talent, smart cities among others

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo and Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong give a joint news conference at the Istana in Singapore, on March 16, 2023.
PHOTO: Reuters

SINGAPORE and Indonesia are exploring cooperation in new areas such as tech talent and smart cities, even as the resolution of longstanding bilateral issues – including over airspace – continues, both leaders said at an annual leaders’ retreat in the city-state on Thursday (Mar 16).

At a joint press conference at the Istana, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said bilateral relations are in “excellent order”, with both countries having taken a “major step forward” to resolve three longstanding issues.

At the last retreat, both countries concluded agreements under an expanded framework: One on boundary realignment of their flight information regions (FIR), an extradition treaty and a defence cooperation agreement.

“We have discussed these issues many times over an extended period and have come a long way to get here,” said PM Lee, adding that both countries have ratified the agreements.

Last week, both countries jointly applied for approval from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for the new arrangement under the FIR agreement, he said.

Following ICAO’s approval, both countries will agree on a date for the three agreements to be implemented simultaneously, he added.

“The successful outcome reflects our strong bilateral relations and shows that Singapore and Indonesia can gain substantial mutual benefits through open and constructive engagement,” said PM Lee.

“We are ready to break new ground in fresh areas of cooperation that are deep, multifaceted, forward-looking and mutually beneficial, and will make a difference to future generations.”

Six government-to-government agreements were inked at the Singapore-Indonesia Leaders’ Retreat, the sixth such retreat between PM Lee and Indonesian President Joko Widodo. Separately, nine business-to-business MOUs were signed between Singapore and Indonesian companies, with six related to healthcare, two to education and one to finance.

Among the government agreements is a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to establish a new programme allowing young tech professionals to work and gain exposure in each other’s countries for up to a year.

“Our tech cooperation will strengthen Asean collaboration in this emerging sector, and this includes working towards a digital economy framework agreement under Indonesia’s Asean chairmanship,” said PM Lee.

The Tech:X Programme is for professionals below the age of 30 who have graduated not more than five years prior from a list of accepted universities. On the list are Singapore’s six autonomous universities and 11 from Indonesia, including University of Indonesia and Bandung Institute of Technology.

Another deal inked was on renewable energy cooperation, building on the MOU on Energy Cooperation signed at last year’s retreat, and the agreement – Concerning Cooperation on Climate Change and Sustainability – signed last March.

Under this new MOU, both countries will facilitate investments in the development of renewable energy manufacturing industries. These include solar photovoltaics, battery energy storage systems, and cross-border electricity trading projects.

The Centre for Liveable Cities under Singapore’s Ministry of National Development (MND) and the Indonesian Nusantara National Capital City Authority signed a deal on knowledge sharing, capacity building and research to make Nusantara – Indonesia’s planned new capital – smart and sustainable.

This includes integrated master planning, smart city development, sustainable water and waste management, as well as integrated transport and infrastructure development.

Noting that Nusantara is a major priority for Indonesia and Jokowi himself, PM Lee said Singapore is happy to assist and will contribute towards knowledge sharing and joint research and development activities.

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With Indonesia planning a Nusantara investment forum in May, PM Lee added: “We will encourage Singaporean entrepreneurs and companies to participate in this.”

Jokowi welcomed the high interest of Singapore investors, adding that in Thursday’s meeting, there were 20 letters of intent from the Singapore private sector to invest in the upcoming capital.

Meanwhile, MND signed a separate MOU with the Indonesian Ministry of National Development Planning for cooperation on sustainable urban and housing development. This will facilitate information exchange and sharing of best practices in areas such as smart, green and affordable public housing policy and management.

Both Ministries of Health signed an MOU on knowledge sharing, capacity building and training in health cooperation, while the Singapore Civil Defence Force and the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency signed one on cooperation in urban search and rescue. Separately, the respective Ministries of Defence co-tabled a joint update on defence cooperation at the retreat.

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong welcoming Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo at the Istana in Singapore.
PHOTO: Reuters

Earlier, Jokowi attended a welcome ceremony at the Istana, having flown in from Jakarta that morning. Both leaders had a four-eye meeting followed by a delegation meeting between Singapore ministers and their Indonesian counterparts.

Singapore has been Indonesia’s top foreign investor since 2014, with total investments reaching $17.5 billion last year. Bilateral trade in the same period was $74.6 billion.

Indonesia last year became Singapore’s top source of visitors, with 1.1 million visitors accounting for 17.4 per cent of total arrivals.

This article was first published in The Business Times.