22 October 2015
The haze which has enveloped Singapore since June 2015 highlights the significance of its bilateral relationship with Indonesia. Just as Singaporeans cannot escape the devastating health impact of ‘slash-and-burn’ deforestation in Sumatra, emerging trends in Indonesia will have an impact on Singapore.
While bilateral ties were generally excellent during the Suharto years from 1967 to 1998, the relationship has become more challenging as Singapore adjusts 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, and increasing student and community exchanges. Singapore has emerged as a major investor in Indonesia amid growing bilateral trade.
But there are undercurrents that should not be ignored. Hotly contested regional elections are scheduled to take place in Indonesia in December 2015. There is a risk that Singapore will be a target of criticism during provincial and district (kabupaten) electoral campaigns in Sumatra. Critics of the incumbents will highlight their willingness 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 strike a nationalistic posture. There is a risk that criticisms of Singapore will go viral.
… Barry Desker is Distinguished Fellow and Bakrie Professor of Southeast Asia Policy, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He served as Singapore’s Ambassador to Indonesia from 1986 to 1993. This RSIS commentary first appeared in The Straits Times.
RSIS / Online
Last updated on 27/10/2015