Ngurah Swajaya, Indonesia's ambassador to Singapore, said fostering better cooperation between the two countries is key to facing new challenges in a rapidly changing world as the two nations celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations this year. (JG Photo/Sheany)

Golden Jubilee: The Future of Indonesia-Singapore Relations

BY :SHEANY

JULY 06, 2017

Jakarta. Ngurah Swajaya, Indonesia's ambassador to Singapore, said fostering better cooperation between the two countries is key to facing new challenges in a rapidly changing world as they celebrate 50 years of diplomatic ties this year.

"We need to be ready with new and emerging challenges, as well as opportunities [...] When we have good cooperation, the two countries can coordinate better and act more swiftly," Ngurah told the Jakarta Globe in an exclusive interview on Wednesday (05/07).

He said well-established and well-maintained cooperation and interaction will allow expeditious movement amidst increasing global challenges. These are essential to promote a better understanding of various issues the two countries may face on a bilateral, regional and global level.

"We are celebrating the 50th anniversary [and we are here] to learn from our past experiences, to celebrate our progress and chart our journey for the next 50 years," Ngurah said.

Indonesia and Singapore have enjoyed a close partnership in multiple sectors, including economics and tourism. In 2015, bilateral trade between the two countries amounted to more than $58 billion. That same year, the two countries were each other's top sources of international tourists.

Singapore is also Indonesia's fifth-largest trade partner, after China, the United States, Japan and India.

Challenges

In 2007, Indonesia and Singapore signed an extradition treaty and a defense cooperation agreement as a package. Both agreements are still pending ratification by Indonesia's House of Representatives.

However, Ngurah said the two countries have been able to cooperate very closely despite the pending ratification.

"Authorities in the two countries are working closely to combat corruption," Ngurah said, citing cooperation between Singapore's Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) and Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

For several years, Indonesia has been criticized for failing to contain annual forest fires, which have caused extreme haze in nearby Malaysia and Singapore.

The issue has strained relations between Indonesia and its closest neighbors and prompted the government to impose tighter measures to prevent a reoccurrence.

Peat is at the heart of the haze issue in Indonesia. The government has placed a five-year moratorium on the draining and clearing of peatland. It has also restored around 270,000 hectares through its Peatland Restoration Agency.

South Sumatra Governor Alex Noerdin promised in April that there would be no more haze emanating from the province as of this year.

Future Cooperation

"One of the issues we are facing is how we will be able to tap other potentials to enhance bilateral cooperation between the two countries," Ngurah said.

He said although foreign direct investment from Singapore has been the biggest in the past four years, there is still bigger potential.

Ngurah pointed out that better information exchange between potential investors in Singapore and their Indonesian partners, as well as an environment conducive for foreign investment in the archipelago are essential to achieve this potential.

The Indonesia-Singapore Business Council is expected to be launched this month. The council will serve as a platform to better exchange information and promote closer cooperation between the two countries. The first meeting is scheduled to take place in September, followed by a business forum.

During their meeting in Semarang, Central Java, last year, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong identified two main areas of cooperation that can be explored further.

Singapore showed interest in participating in the development of 35 gigawatts of power-generating capacity in Indonesia. Since then, Singaporean companies have had close contact with state-owned utility company Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN).

In addition, a joint tourism promotion is currently in the works to attract long-haul travelers – such as from Europe and America – to visit both Indonesia and Singapore during their journeys to the region.

Singapore has also showed interest in investing in infrastructure facilities in several areas, including Borobudur Temple in Central Java, Lake Toba in North Sumatra, and Mandalika in West Nusa Tenggara, which are part of the so-called Ten New Balis, or the 10 new priority tourist destinations in Indonesia.

Ngurah said Indonesia and Singapore will also soon look at strengthening bilateral cooperation in the digital economy.

"We have a lot of talent in Indonesia, [while] Singapore has a great international network and financial resources. Why don't we combine that?" Ngurah said.

He added that without international cooperation, neither country can effectively address increasing cybersecurity threats.

Indonesia and Singapore are also looking at engaging each other more through training, seminars and the exchange of information and intelligence to prevent and reduce cybercrime.

Similar cooperation is also ongoing between the two countries' law enforcement agencies as part of efforts to combat terrorism.

Indonesia and Singapore's strong bilateral relations have in part been a product of their similarities as multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religion countries.

Furthermore, as neighbors and founding members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), the two countries share the "same vision of how to shape regional security," Ngurah said.

He added that these elements are crucial in promoting stronger bilateral cooperation.

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