With the signing of three treaties on Tuesday, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong have cemented a strong foundation for the future relations between the two neighbors. By overcoming "bumps in the road" and unnecessary "quarrels" that have often badly affected the relationship between their respective nations, the two leaders have provided much better infrastructure for their successors.
Jokowi will end his second five-year term in 2024, while Lee is widely expected to relinquish the post that he has occupied for more than 17 years in 2025 when Singapore holds its general election. Therefore, they bear the responsibility of ensuring the three historic agreements quickly take effect.
The fact that Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, who is also Gerindra Party chairman, and Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly, a senior politician of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), signed the Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA) and the extradition treaty, respectively, will make it easier for the government to push the House of Representatives to ratify the treaties. The PDI-P and Gerindra are the largest and third-largest factions in the legislative body. The House refused to ratify the DCA in 2007, after the two governments had signed the same DCA and extradition treaty.
Tuesday's signing on Bintan Island capped lengthy negotiations, which saw both sides give and take concessions to achieve mutual benefits.
Bilateral and multilateral relations should always follow the principles of interdependence, mutual benefit and mutual respect for territorial integrity. History has shown Indonesia and Singapore need each other on many fronts. There have been ups and downs in the relationship between them, but they also realize that they cannot choose their neighbors.
For Indonesia the signing of the defense cooperation, extradition and Flight Information Region agreements proved that with much better preparation, including in terms of legal technicalities, the country could reap maximum gains from negotiations. For Singapore, defense cooperation is a vital issue, and therefore the content of the agreement signed in 2007 was maintained.
Narrow-minded and hyper-nationalist people may perceive the treaties as a defeat for Singapore, dismissing the international practice that good negotiation never ends in a zero-sum game. Statistics clearly show Singapore is an important business partner for Indonesia and vice versa.
But nothing can be taken for granted. The two sides will try to make sure that they can get the best out of the relationship. The treaty on extradition, for instance, is not a silver bullet that will immediately lead to the repatriation of Indonesian fugitives who are hiding in the island state. The criminals will not easily give up, and knowing the corrupt behavior of many Indonesian law enforcers, they will find loopholes to escape extradition.
Singapore is tiny in geographical size, but boasts enormous economic power and has proven so far it can stand on its own feet. Indonesia, on the other hand, is far richer in natural resources and bigger in population and territory.
The two countries will always need and complement each other and thus seek mutual benefits. Let this principle guide the relationship between the two neighbors for many years to come.
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