Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan’s Media Wrap-up at the Singapore Residence, Jakarta, Indonesia, 26 March 2021

Minister: Let me say a few words first. It has been a very hectic, very busy but very fulfilling and fruitful two days. I had the opportunity to meet the President, Pak Joko Widodo. I also met the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investments Pak Luhut Pandjaitan, and the Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto. Of course, I also met my counterpart, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ibu Retno Marsudi. From the finance side, Minister of Finance Sri Mulyani Indrawati and on tourism, Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy Sandiaga Uno. I also met Erick Thohir, the Minister of State-Owned Enterprises. This morning, I had breakfast with the Governor of Jakarta, Anies Baswedan. It has been a really hectic, but very productive and fulfilling visit.


A couple of observations. First, our relations with Indonesia are in a very, very good state. Despite the challenges of last year with COVID-19, we have stayed in close touch. We have supported each other mutually. We have made sure supply chains continued to flow, especially for products such as essential drugs, medication, and PPE (personal protective equipment). In the early phase of the crisis, we were also supplying PCR machines, reagents and other essential supplies that were in critical shortage at that point in time. Now, we are in a different phase. Both in Singapore as well as Indonesia, the COVID-19 situation is much better than it was a year ago. The other key development in both countries is the rollout of vaccinations. In both countries, vaccination is key to the post-COVID-19 recovery. What I also wanted to do here was to compare notes, share experiences in terms of the delivery of vaccines to the population – how fast and how to do it. Of course, the challenges in Indonesia are far greater and far more complex than in Singapore. But still, it is a useful exercise in its own right.


Related to this, what I wanted to do was to start initial conversations about how we will be able to recognise and verify health records related to vaccination status, serology status if applicable , PCR tests. That requires each country to set up its own national system – which we have –  and then to be able to exchange relevant information, when necessary, with consent. This will help enable the future resumption of safe travel between Indonesia and Singapore. I also had similar discussions with Malaysia, and with Brunei. I hope these initial bilateral discussions can eventually be generalised into a regional series of arrangements, which will, hopefully, in the not-so-distant future, enable people to travel again – to travel for business, studies, social reasons, family reasons, and even tourism when the situation improves.


The other reason for coming here was to discuss the Leaders’ Retreat between President Jokowi and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. We agreed we will hold it this year. We agreed that it will be hosted by Indonesia, and that it will almost certainly be in Bintan. What we need to sort out now is the exact dates, so watch this space. We will continue to settle the agenda, the details of the projects and items to be discussed. We also want to give a chance for the vaccination programmes and safe travel measures in Bintan and us (Singapore), to be better coordinated. Hopefully, that will mark the start of a new phase in the options for travel – watch this space.


We also reviewed on the economic front that there has been significant progress. Despite COVID-19, the investment flow from Singapore to Indonesia last year went up by an additional 50%. We remain Indonesia’s largest foreign investor and have been so for the past six years. In addition, the Bilateral Investment Treaty was ratified, just ten days ago, by Ibu Retno and Minister (Trade & Industry) Chan Chun Sing. We are awaiting ratification of the Agreement for Avoidance of Double Taxation. MAS and Bank Indonesia, the Indonesian central bank, have also renewed the Bilateral Financial Arrangement, which is an arrangement to help mutually stabilise currencies in this period of economic and pandemic-related challenges. In terms of regulatory certainty, in terms of agreements, in terms of investment flow, it has all been very positive. The Indonesian side appreciates this and wants to continue to engage Singapore and to attract more investments.


There are many opportunities in Indonesia as they roll out infrastructure, and as they prepare for the green economy. There have always been opportunities for Singapore companies. Now, I think, this is another occasion to look for new investment opportunities, even as the economy restructures in Indonesia, and even after COVID-19, as we prepare for a new world which will focus, I believe, on a greater need for resilience. There will be changes in supply chains. I think it is also an occasion for ASEAN, as an economic centre of gravity in its own right, to be emphasised and for us to increase intra-ASEAN trade as well as the way ASEAN engages and trades with the rest of the world. I have had very useful sessions with a very wide range of Ministers in this short visit here. I will be happy to take questions.


Saifulbahri Ismail (CNA Broadcast): Minister, yesterday, you discussed the Myanmar issue. Singapore and Indonesia are supporting the special ASEAN Summit on Myanmar. What do you hope this special summit can achieve and to what extent do you think it can improve the current crisis in Myanmar?


Minister: We discussed Myanmar at some length. It is not a happy topic. It is a tragedy that is unfolding. It is going to take quite some time to resolve. I must confess to you that I am pessimistic. The next point is that it is essential for ASEAN to consider, to contemplate, to support and to be a constructive presence inside Myanmar. We still do not believe in foreign interference in domestic politics but as fellow ASEAN Member States we hope they will take into consideration the views of our leaders. Particularly, when our leaders have had the chance to quietly, confidentially and openly amongst themselves, arrive at a set of conclusions. All the ASEAN countries have got to do our homework. This will form the agenda and basis for a more detailed discussion amongst the leaders. At this stage, it is premature to conclude what will be the content of the special summit. But I think it is essential for ASEAN’s credibility, Centrality and relevance to have a view, have a position and to be able to offer some constructive assistance to Myanmar – a fellow member state of ASEAN. But do not expect quick solutions. At the end of the day, Myanmar needs national reconciliation. All sides, all stakeholders have to sit down peacefully, in good faith and have frank, open, and constructive dialogue to create the future that the young people in Myanmar so dearly want. Now, in this Internet era, we watch the videos with broken hearts. But you can also see the determination, the hopes and the aspirations of the young. We have to find ways to give them the security, peace, stability and the opportunities that they so richly deserve. You look at the rest of ASEAN. We are integrating. We are opening. We are investing. We are engaging the rest of the world. We are transforming our economies. We are generating jobs for the future. We are training, re-tooling and re-skilling. All this also needs to occur in Myanmar. This kind of turmoil will set them back, potentially for a generation or more. Let us hope for the best.


Linda Yulisman (Straits Times): Could you please elaborate on your takeaways from your meeting with President Jokowi today?


Minister: As I said, we covered several topics, including the Leaders’ Retreat. We discussed the economy. We discussed Myanmar and the discussions that the leaders will need to have. President Joko Widodo was also particularly seized with this question of the green economy, and the opportunities that the green economy presents for Indonesia, in terms of Indonesia’s access to hydropower, wind, geothermal, solar panels, and how the economics of renewable energy have been transformed in the last five to ten years. Many things which, in the past, you could say were almost aspirational or ideological, make perfect economic sense today, and with the proper regulatory frameworks and no fossil fuel subsidies, let technology and market economics work through the system. I think the green economy, not only in Indonesia, but across Southeast Asia, is going to take off in a big way in the next decades to come. This is a very exciting space and President Jokowi recognised that. We had quite a passionate and enthusiastic discussion on this topic.


Kiki Siregar (CNA Digital): Could you comment on the proposed travel corridor  between Singapore and Batam Nongsa, that Pak Sandiaga Uno mentioned yesterday,  and also potentially Bali.


Minister: Well, I want to start by quoting Ibu Retno. As we make these arrangements in the context of a recovery from COVID-19, I think the adjectives that should be used are “gradual, safe and cautious”. I think these are very apt adjectives to describe the way we will do so. I would reiterate the point that we need the COVID-19 situation to improve significantly; ideally for Indonesia to achieve the same level of control as we currently have in Singapore. Every day in Singapore, we have zero, one, or two cases locally. We have about a dozen imported cases, but all of them go straight into quarantine and therefore do not pose a risk to the larger community.  You cannot  travel the way we used to travel in the past, not until the situation normalises and equalises across the different destinations. That is the first thing – the need for normalisation of pandemic circumstances. The other point, I emphasise again, is the need for testing, for vaccination especially, and for us to be able to share records – verifiable, authoritative records – in order to enable cross-border travel. This will take some time. That is why I completely agree with Ibu Retno’s point. Let us do it gradually, carefully and cautiously. That is the way to do it. The last thing you want is to run before you are ready and then you get a big cluster and set us back. Have some patience, but rest assured, we are working on this.



Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Singapore