SINAR HARAPAN INTERVIEW WITH SINGAPORE AMBASSADOR ASHOK MIRPURI, 8 AUGUST 2007
Sinar Harapan interview with Singapore Ambassador Ashok Mirpuri, 8 August 2007
About Your Mission
1. You have been conducting ambassadorial mission in Indonesia for more than one year. How do you like this country so far?
Indonesia is like my 'second home'. This is my third assignment to the Singapore Embassy in Jakarta, and each time has been quite different and challenging. I have been in the front-seat observing developments in Indonesia since the 1980s, and it has been a unique experience. Most exceptional have been the friends that my family and I have made in Indonesia. Indonesians are very warm and welcoming people, and this has made it a special time for us.
2. During your mission in Indonesia, you must have been travelling to a lot of cities throughout this country. Which city in Indonesia do you mostly like?
I generally travel to provinces where there are Singapore projects as well as to understand developments outside Jakarta. The Singapore projects are a useful way for our two countries to cooperate, and these projects are in a wide range of areas including health and education. With regional autonomy, the visits to the provinces provide a sense of the issues in the provinces and kabupatens and help the Embassy to identify new areas of cooperation.
It is difficult to say which city I like best. Two decades ago, I studied at UGM in Jogja and have a unique attachment to the city. Also, Bali has a special affection because my wife and I had our honeymoon there many years ago.
3. Is there any cultural or social aspect in Indonesian society that makes you interested with?
Indonesia is a vast archipelago with many different ethnic groups, each with their own unique traditions, customs and beliefs. I still have much to learn about Indonesia's rich diversity and heritage.
4. What is the most difficult part when adjusting your life in Indonesia?
Because I have been based in Jakarta before, there was less of a cultural shock in coming back. Probably the most difficult adjustment has been to maintain my recreational interests with the very hectic schedule of diplomatic life in Jakarta.
The development of Bilateral Relationship between Singapore and Indonesia
5. Indonesia and Singapore, for time being, are experiencing 'up-and-down' relationship. However, how strategic is Indonesia for the interests of your country, both in political, economy, and security matters at the moment?
As immediate neighbours, Singapore's relations with Indonesia are warm and close. Our relationship is based on strong foundations and predicated on mutual respect and mutual benefit. Our leaders work well together and meet regularly. Singapore and Indonesia are major trading partners. Singapore has also consistently been among the top five investors in Indonesia. We have worked closely together when we have needed to assist each other, most recently during the 2004 Aceh tsunami and the 2006 earthquake in Central Java. People-to-people ties are also strong and this has made the relationship between our two countries very resilient.
Singapore and Indonesia are also close partners at the regional and international level. Singapore has just taken on the ASEAN Chairmanship, and I am confident our countries will cooperate closely towards building an ASEAN Community; fostering a credible, competitive and relevant ASEAN through the ASEAN Charter, and achieving ASEAN's goal of an integrated region through the ASEAN Economic Community.
6. Both local and international communities are being enthusiastic to follow the latest issue on the extradition treaty and the defence cooperation agreement signed by both governments a few months ago. Are you optimistic that both governments will overcome their differences this year? Is the issue affecting good relationship between Singapore and Indonesia in other sectors?
When President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong agreed in Bali in 2005 to negotiate the Extradition Treaty and Defence Cooperation Agreement as a package, their intention was for the two agreements to bring bilateral relations to the next level. It was in this spirit that our countries undertook negotiations on the two agreements. We have achieved a carefully balanced package, and it required significant goodwill and compromise from both sides before negotiations were concluded and the main agreements signed by the Foreign and Defence Ministers and witnessed by President Yudhoyono and PM Lee in Bali on 27 April 2007.
Beyond the recent agreements, we must not lose sight of the larger benefits that our broad and strong relationship brings us. I am certain that many areas of cooperation will continue even in the current context.
7. What other cooperation about to be agreed by both governments this year?
We continue to work with Indonesia on the Batam, Bintan and Karimun (BBK) Special Economic Zones (SEZs). Among other projects, we have signed a MOU to implement a pilot project on avian flu in Tangerang and we have developed a master plan on dealing with forest fires in Jambi province. We also have on-going projects in Aceh.
8. On economic sector, what should be done by the Indonesian authorities, both in national and local level, for attracting more Singaporean investment and tourists to come to this country?
Singapore and Indonesia are working together on the BBK SEZs. The Riau SEZ, if successful, will help to attract more foreign investments to Indonesia and create more jobs for Indonesians. It will also have positive benefits for Singapore. This convergence in interests is a demonstration of how Indonesia and Singapore can work together for mutual benefit.
Tourists from Indonesia and Singapore are major components of tourist arrivals in each of our countries. To encourage tourism, there can be better connectivity between our two countries particularly air links to the key tourist cities.
9. On energy sector, how strategic is Indonesia for securing Singapore's energy policies in the future?
Singapore is an energy importing country that relies on various sources of energy to meet our energy needs. The Singapore Government continues to work to diversify its energy supplies and maintains a flexible energy policy. Our energy policy builds on existing strengths and looks to future possibilities, including in areas such as renewable energy like solar energy.
10. What are the bilateral challenges that should be overcome by both countries? Is this year's bilateral relationship going to be dominated by political and security issues instead of economic and social issues?
Singapore-Indonesia relations are warm and good. While the occasional issue may crop up from time to time as they do between neighbours, we should not lose sight of the overall positive bilateral relationship. Cooperation between our two countries is broad and not confined to one particular area. Both sides recognise this and this bodes well for the future.
Singapore's Domestic Issues
11. What is the major domestic challenge being faced by Singapore at this moment?
We live in a rapidly changing world with the challenges of globalisation. Singaporeans have to adapt to these challenges both as individuals and as a nation. We need an economy that can provide good jobs through sustained growth so that there are opportunities for Singaporeans to pursue their dreams. At the same time, we have to be open to the outside world and encourage regional and international links.
12. How does the government overcome the challenge?
See response to question 11.
The Celebration of the National Day
13. Is there a big special event related to the commemoration of the national day in Singapore this year?
Singapore holds a National Day Parade on 9 August each year. It is a celebration held annually to commemorate Singapore's independence, which was attained in 1965. This year, we celebrate Singapore's 42nd year of independence. There are also a range of activities throughout August, including a National Day Festival.
14. What is the special theme for this year's National Day?
National Day is a time for Singaporeans, both at home and overseas, to Celebrate Singapore.
15. Is the Singaporean Embassy in Jakarta going to have a special ceremony or special gathering for the National Day?
The Embassy and the Singapore community in Jakarta have a number of special events for National Day. One of the most important is a Community Day for Singaporeans in Jakarta, and provides an opportunity for us to meet and celebrate National Day with fellow Singaporeans and other friends. The Embassy also hosts a reception with Indonesian Government officials, our Indonesian friends and members of the diplomatic corps to commemorate National Day. In addition, the Singapore community in Indonesia organises National Day dinners and other events during August, not only in Jakarta but also in Pekanbaru and in Batam.
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