14 October 2015
The haze enveloping Singapore today highlights the significance of our bilateral relationship with Indonesia. Just as we cannot escape the devastating impact on our health of “slash-and-burn” techniques to clear forested land in Sumatra for oil palm plantations, as neighbours, emerging trends in Indonesia will have an impact on Singapore.
Generally excellent bilateral ties during the years when President Suharto led Indonesia from 1967 to 1998 have been followed by more challenging interactions as Singapore adjusted to the rise of populist democracy in Indonesia. There has been a sharp increase in bilateral exchanges over the years, both at the political and business levels, as well as a rise in tourism, increasing student and community exchanges, together with Singapore’s emergence as a major investor in Indonesia and growing bilateral trade.
But there are undercurrents which should not be ignored. As hotly contested regional elections are set to take place in Indonesia in December, there is a risk that Singapore will be a target of criticism in provincial and district (kabupaten) electoral campaigns in Sumatra, especially in areas where power holders have worked well with Singapore, such as in Riau and Jambi. Their critics will charge that these incumbents are willing to subordinate Indonesia’s interests to the lure of Singapore’s cash and benefits. A younger generation of Internet-savvy Indonesians are also likely to take nationalistic postures and criticism of Singapore risks going viral.
… The writer is Distinguished Fellow and Bakrie Professor of South-east Asia Policy, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University. He served as Singapore’s Ambassador to Indonesia from 1986 to 1993.
RSIS / Online / Print
Last updated on 14/10/2015