Singapore and Indonesia pledge continuity in bilateral ties at Leaders’ Retreat

Both leaders hailed the three landmark pacts on airspace management, defence cooperation and extradition, agreements which came into force in March 2024, as one of the biggest milestones in bilateral relations.

Arlina Arshad and Hariz Baharudin

Arlina Arshad and Hariz Baharudin

The Straits Times


(From left) Singapore's DPM Lawrence Wong and PM Lee Hsien Loong, and Indonesia's President Joko Widodo and president-elect Prabowo Subianto at Bogor state palace in West Java during the Singapore-Indonesia Leaders’ Retreat on April 29. PHOTO: MCI/ THE STRAITS TIMES

April 30, 2024

SINGAPORE – Accompanied by their successors, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong celebrated their achievements in bilateral ties over the past decade at their Leaders’ Retreat at Bogor state palace on April 29, and pledged continuity in future cooperation.

On the verandah of the Dutch colonial building, with views of verdant botanic gardens and roaming spotted deer, the leaders appeared relaxed in their batik shirts as they discussed a myriad of topics. These ranged from deepening cooperation in defence and the digital economy and exploring opportunities in the green economy, to potential investments in Indonesia’s new capital, known as Nusantara, in East Kalimantan.

The meeting, a long-held tradition in which the countries’ leaders and ministers meet informally each year to discuss ways to strengthen ties, was the seventh and final one for both leaders, who will be leaving office in 2024.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong is set to take over from PM Lee on May 15. Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto, who won the country’s presidential election on Feb 14, will succeed Mr Widodo in October.

PM Lee described the rare, eight-eyed meeting as “particularly special”, as it was his last with the Indonesian President. At a doorstop with Singapore media after the meeting, he said it was, in essence, a “valedictory meeting”.

“President Jokowi is really doing me honours, inviting me just before I hand over,” he said, referring to his Indonesian counterpart by his popular nickname.

“It is both a look back on our 10 years of cooperation with President Jokowi but also a look ahead, the next phase between DPM Lawrence who is taking over and the new President-elect Prabowo,” he added.

Over the years, Indonesia and Singapore have “been able to do a lot together and to keep the relationship in good shape”, resolving problems and moving forward on cooperation, some of which are yielding results, PM Lee noted.

When issues arise, the two neighbours have “been able to deal with them appropriately and in a manner which keeps the overall relationship stable and resolves the specific problems”, he added.

At an earlier joint press conference, PM Lee expressed his confidence that the incoming leaders “will continue to bring the relationship to greater heights”.

“From the present leadership to the next, we committed to look ahead, build on the strong foundation, and expand cooperation,” he said at a joint press conference with the Indonesian leader.

“I am glad that President Jokowi and I are handing over the bilateral relationship in a good state to our successors.

“May Singapore-Indonesia ties continue to flourish, far into the future,” he added.

Similarly, Mr Widodo expressed his confidence that Indonesia and Singapore will “continue to strengthen mutually beneficial cooperation under new leadership”.

The Indonesian leader expressed his gratitude to PM Lee and his ministers, saying that cooperation between the two countries has progressed well. He noted that this Leaders’ Retreat “is a strong signal for the continuity of cooperation between the two countries”.

For instance, Indonesia has offered to Singapore several investment opportunities in textile manufacturing at the Kendal Industrial Park in Central Java, and the construction of data centres in Nongsa Digital Park in Batam, among other things.

Mr Widodo also lauded plans to export electricity to Singapore and cooperation in technology transfer, as well as the exchange of science and technology in food processing.

On the development of the new capital, one of his biggest legacy projects, he expressed his appreciation for the enthusiasm of 29 Singapore companies that want to invest in Nusantara, and called for support in the construction of solar power plants there.

Both leaders hailed the three landmark pacts on airspace management, defence cooperation and extradition, agreements which came into force in March 2024, as one of the biggest milestones in bilateral relations.

Thanking Mr Widodo and his ministers, PM Lee said these agreements showed that “when we work together in a spirit of friendship and openness, we can address even the most complicated issues in a pragmatic and mutually beneficial manner”.

Mr Widodo also praised the implementation of the pacts, saying: “It must be ensured that the implementation (of the pacts) is fully working in the future.”

PM Lee noted the “excellent progress” in bilateral cooperation in areas including defence, the digital economy and the green economy.

The leaders also discussed regional and global issues. Mr Widodo said both he and Mr Lee agreed to continue to encourage peace efforts in the Middle East, and to strive to strengthen Asean centrality.

PM Lee acknowledged Mr Widodo’s contributions to Indonesia and the region, underscoring the archipelago’s importance as Asean’s largest economy.

As the host of the Group of 20 Summit in 2022 and the Asean Summit in 2023, Indonesia under the leadership of Mr Widodo “has been a constructive voice in a divided world”, PM Lee said.

“With vision and leadership, he has put Indonesia on a strong economic trajectory, confident and optimistic about its path ahead and raised Asean’s standing as a participant in international affairs with a view which is worth listening to and a contribution which will make a difference,” he added.

Hence, PM Lee said: “It has brought stability and progress to Indonesia and to the entire region… When Indonesia prospers, the region prospers.”

In a social media post, DPM Wong said that the Leaders’ Retreat was a unique opportunity for the current leaders of both countries to meet each other, together with their future successors. He thanked Mr Widodo for his leadership and hospitality.

“I look forward to working with President-elect Prabowo to build on the strong ties, and to take our partnership to greater heights,” he said.

scroll to top