A/P Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim
COS Cut for MFA
Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei are our closest neighbours. Aside from direct air links to all three countries, we share land borders with Malaysia, and
maritime boundaries with Malaysia and Indonesia. We have large amounts of trade and investments flowing between us and our neighbours. The people of our countries share longstanding historical and familial ties. With Brunei, we share a close friendship, one which both sides have often described as a “special relationship”.
There has been much progress in bilateral cooperation between Singapore and our three neighbours. Most recently, Singapore and Malaysia have jointly lowered tolls on the Second Link. There are more companies investing in Indonesia than before. Our youth exchanges with Brunei continue to grow. Our close ties are underscored by our special Currency Interchangeability Agreement with Brunei.
As with all neighbours, we sometimes have differences too. One example is how the Malaysians have sought revision and interpretation of the 2008 ICJ Judgment on sovereignty over Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge. I note that Malaysian PM Najib Razak has just participated in the 8th Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat in Singapore. Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan also recently visited to Jakarta, where he met several political office holders and politicians. In addition, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean visited Brunei last year, of which I was a delegation
My question has three parts:
First, would MFA be able to update members of the public on the state of our bilateral relations with our three closest neighbours, including key takeaways from the recent visits? How will we work to maintain our relations with our closest neighbours for the benefit of our peoples?
Second, as Malaysia enters into election mode, what is MFA’s view on its impact on bilateral relations, if any?
Third, following the commemoration of our 50th anniversary of formal diplomatic relations with Indonesia last year, what are some of the bilateral projects that we can look forward to that will help strengthen our relations with Indonesia and maintain the positive momentum of bilateral ties?
Answer from Foreign Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan:
Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim asked about our immediate neighbours. So let me report first on Malaysia and Indonesia. You know these are our closest neighbours, of utmost importance. And with the right spirit of cooperation, we embark on win-win initiatives, strengthen bilateral ties and allow our companies to tap on the dynamic Malaysian and Indonesian economies.
But, you know as well as I do, our relations will always be complex, and issues will surface from time to time. When they do, again, have a sense of perspective. Don’t let a single issue derail the overall relationship.
Malaysia. With Malaysia, we have continued to set new milestones recently. At the 8th Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat in January, PM Lee and Prime Minister Najib Razak officiated the opening of the Marina One and DUO joint venture developments, which have a combined Gross Development Value of S$11 billion.
Members will remember that these projects came about as sequelae to the settlement of the Points of Agreement on the Malayan Railways (KTM) land.
We also signed the Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link Bilateral Agreement. The RTS Link, when completed in 2024, will dramatically change the way hundreds of thousands of travellers shuttle between Johor Bahru and Singapore each day.
Then we also have the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail, which is also progressing well. The tender for the Assets Company was called last December; it will close in June. The results of the tender will be announced in about a year’s time, and will be conducted in a fair, open and transparent manner.
Such long-term strategic projects enhance our inter-dependence, give us all a greater stake in each other’s success, and demonstrate the tangible benefits of stable and positive ties.
There have been questions even about Pedra Branca at the International Court of Justice. Let me just put it very simply, we will not let this issue define or derail our relationship. In fact, the most important point is this – that when we have a difference, we seek peaceful resolution according to international law.
I should remind members that Malaysia will soon hold its General Election. Again, we know from past history that every time election rhetoric heats up, sometimes Singapore becomes part of the political fodder. Now, on our part, we must ensure that we do not get drawn into their domestic politics, nor will we allow the import of foreign countries’ politics into Singapore.
Indonesia. With Indonesia, our bilateral cooperation remains deep and multi-faceted. Last year, Singapore and Indonesia commemorated “RISING50” – the 50th anniversary of our diplomatic relations. And we have been working to enhance economic linkages in digital economy, tourism and skills training.
Singapore remained Indonesia’s top foreign investor in 2017, with realised investments at US$8.4 billion. We are each other’s second biggest source of tourists.
The recently-launched joint venture in Central Java, the Kendal Industrial Park, is doing well. 36 companies have committed as tenants, investments valued at over S$600 million, and with the potential to create 5,000 jobs.
We are also working with Indonesia on a digital industry cluster in Batam and to participate in the tech start-up ecosystem in Jakarta, which by the way, has quite a thriving digital scene.
We also continue to work closely to strengthen counterterrorism efforts.
And since I used to be Environment Minister, I need to say that we appreciate the concerted efforts of President Joko Widodo and the provincial leaders to manage the haze situation. And this year, it is better. We are committed to working with Indonesia to tackle this transboundary issue.
I just visited Jakarta last month. Good series of meetings with my counterpart Ibu Retno Marsudi and other Indonesian leaders across the political spectrum.
There is consensus across the board that the Singapore-Indonesia partnership is valuable and brings mutual benefits, and so long as we can continue this positive tenor, we can manage the inevitable differences which still remain.
Overall, we believe in the “Prosper Thy Neighbour” policy. And we want Indonesia and Malaysia especially to succeed. Good for us, good for the region.
Brunei. Brunei is a close and special friend.
We celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Currency Interchangeability Agreement (CIA) in July 2017, during the fourth State Visit of His Majesty the Sultan. The CIA is a unique long-standing arrangement that has brought economic benefits for both Brunei and Singapore. It has lowered business costs and allowed us to inter-operate.
PM Lee attended the Sultan’s Golden Jubilee celebration last October, which was another occasion to reaffirm our close relationship.
You may have heard that Brunei had a Cabinet reshuffle recently. We are familiar with many of the new Ministers because we have had regular exchanges over the years. We are looking forward to work with the new team to further take our special relationship to new heights.
We continue to foster close ties among the younger generation of Bruneian and Singapore leaders through the annual Young Leaders’ Programme, led by His Royal Highness Crown Prince Billah and DPM Teo Chee Hean.