Three landmark agreements, six pacts signed . . .
Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong signed three agreements on Tuesday focused on extradition, defence co-operation, and airspace management. The agreements include a treaty allowing Indonesia to secure the extradition of fugitives hiding out in Singapore who are accused of appropriating billions in state money after the 1997-1998 Asian Financial Crisis. The defence co-operation agreement will boost Singapore’s ability to carry out naval and military exercises amid regional tensions and allow Singapore’s armed forces to train in Indonesia. A third agreement focused on airspace, whereby Indonesia reclaimed its sovereignty over all airspace within its territory, including above the Riau and Natuna Islands, which Singapore previously administered. The two leaders also endorsed six other pacts on financial regulation, innovation, and energy co-operation.
A litany of longstanding disagreement . . .
Prime Minister Lee commented that after many discussions between the two neighbours, these agreements demonstrate the maturity of Singapore-Indonesia relations. Although the two countries engage in frequent bilateral exchange at the political, business, and financial levels, there is a history of long-standing bilateral disagreement. These disagreements include the environmental impacts from Indonesia’s forest fires, control over territorial airspace, and Singapore’s alleged harbouring of Indonesian “corruptors and their illegal funds.” The three landmark agreements and six pacts address some of these disputes.
A wake-up call to ASEAN . . .
This new set of bilateral agreements may prompt further discussions within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), as there are still outstanding areas of diplomatic tensions within the wider ASEAN bloc. For instance, Indonesia and Singapore have both urged the bloc to take a tougher stance against the leader of the February 2020 coup in Myanmar, Min Aung Hlaing, rather than approaching the crisis with ASEAN’s non-interference policy. While the bloc could use areas of regional tension and conflict as opportunities to bolster its capabilities, in strengthening ASEAN’s role as a regional co-operative organization, member states will need to move beyond bespoke bilateral agreements.