SINGAPORE — Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo lauded the close bilateral ties between Singapore and Indonesia on Thursday (Sept 7) as both countries marked 50 years of bilateral ties and pledged to further strengthen their close relationship.
Speaking at a press conference at the Istana after holding talks with Mr Widodo, Mr Lee noted that 50 years ago to this day, Singapore's then-Foreign Minister S Rajaratnam signed a joint communique with his Indonesian counterpart Adam Malik to establish formal diplomatic relations between the two countries.
"Our bilateral relationship has since grown and prospered. Generations of leaders have taken a long-term and win-win approach, to cooperate for mutual benefit and solve problems amicably and sensibly," said Mr Lee. "As a result, today we have a strong partnership based on mutual trust and respect."
Wearing a batik shirt and standing alongside Mr Lee, Mr Widodo described 2017 as a “special” year as both countries celebrate five decades of friendship.
“Singapore has become Indonesia’s main partner in trade, investment and tourism, as Indonesia is for Singapore,” he said, adding that the establishment of the Indonesia-Singapore Investment Council last July will further boost ties between the two countries’ business communities.
“We have overcome challenges over the last 50 years. The challenges of the next 50 years will differ, including in terms of bilateral relations,” he added.
“I’m glad that the discussion with PM Lee this morning was focused on our cooperation ahead, including the development of digital economy.”
Mr Widodo also expressed Indonesia’s full support for Singapore’s chairmanship of the Association of South-east Asian Nations next year.
The Indonesian President is in Singapore on a two-day visit and to attend his second Leaders’ Retreat with Mr Lee.
Both countries are celebrating 50 years of diplomatic ties with the tagline “Rising50” — an amalgamation of “RI” for the Republic of Indonesia, “Sing” for Singapore, and 50 for the anniversary.
Mr Lee also said he is happy that Kendal Industrial Park (KIP), which he and Mr Widodo opened last year at their first retreat is doing well, noting that it has attracted 32 confirmed clients, almost USD500 million ($S674 million) in investment and creating close to 4,000 jobs.
"There are now plans to set up a polytechnic in KIP to produce trained workers to support the project," he said, adding that both countries had also agreed to work closely to tackle the threat of terrorism in South-east Asia.
"We have cooperated in disaster and humanitarian management and counter-terrorism. I share President Jokowi's concern over the growing terrorism threat in our region and we agreed to work closely together on this issue."
Mr Lee expressed confidence that under the leadership of Mr Widodo, Singapore will continue to enjoy a "strong, forward-looking and dynamic relationship" with Indonesia.
"Looking forward to seeing Singapore and Indonesia rise together to greater heights over the next 50 years," he said.
Speaking later at a lunch hosted by Mr Lee, Mr Widodo noted that the theme of the two countries' jubilee celebrations — Trusted partners, rising together — was apt given the strong cooperation across many areas.
"The past 50 years, we have laid a foundation — a strong one — upon which cooperation in all fields have flourished," he said. "We are neighbours by God's will and by geography, but we are and will always be good neighbours and close friends by choice."
"To this end, it is essentially to always ensure that our next 50 years of cooperation is one that is based on mutual trust ... brings equal and mutual benefit to our peoples, ensures common prosperity to our nations, benefits our region and beyond," added Mr Widodo.
Earlier on Thursday morning, Mr Lee and Mr Widodo planted a Sunda Oak tree that is native to both countries in the Learning Forest at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
Following their retreat and a delegation meeting at the Istana, the two leaders unveiled a joint stamp and witnessed the signing of several Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) on disaster management and education.
They will witness a combined fly-past featuring aircraft from the Republic of Singapore Air Force and the Indonesian Air Force later in the afternoon,.
Ties between Singapore and Indonesia are broad and deep, with frequent exchanges of high-level visits.
The city-state was Indonesia’s third largest trading partner last year, with bilateral trade reaching S$56.1 billion in 2016. Singapore has also consistently been among the top five investors in Indonesia since 2001, with investment realisation in Indonesia for last year amounting to US$9.2 billion.
Both countries are also the top source of visitor arrivals for each other. Last year, Singapore welcomed 2.89 million Indonesian visitors, while 1.47 million Singaporeans visited Indonesia.