Singapore-Indonesia Relations : The Common Sense Of It All


By: B Goode

If you looked at the Cabinet members, you’d notice that none of them are trained in politics. Yes ladies and gentlemen! We are being ruled by a bunch of unlicensed politicians.

Let’s see. We have a mathematician, an electrician, a lawyer, an accountant, a defence specialist, a smattering of economists, doctors, businessmen, a lot of engineers, a beautician or two, and one who I suspect is turning into a tree-hugger.

Politically speaking, we are passengers of an airplane piloted by monkeys on auto-pilot. The thing about auto-pilot is that whilst it can bring you to your destination, it cannot change course to avoid turbulence in the horizon.

I think I have just described in a nutshell Singapore’s foreign policy vis-a-vis Indonesia.

Having technocrats in government is not bad if they only served as members of the board of directors of Singapore Inc. And it showed. Economically Singapore is par excellent.

But when it comes to steering Singapore through the intricate waters of International Relations, you’ll need more than just people who are good at counting, laying cables, talking, amputation or making lots of dough. You’ll need people who are good at reading nuances, second guessing the hidden meanings of words uttered, posturings, behind the scene negotiations, exchange of goodwill, kite-flying and if needed, footsies.

In short, you’ll need a real diplomat. Someone born with the necessary skills. The late LKY (sorry I have to raise him from the dead to make this point) was a lawyer by training. But he had diplomacy in his blood honed by years of haggling, fighting, negotiating with the British, communists, Malaysians and whoever that was willing to talk to him.

One wonders as to what LKY would have done to solve the haze problem. I think he’d just fly over to Jakarta to discuss things over a four-eye meeting with the President and that would be it. Problem would be solved. Either there would be no more haze, or Singaporeans would be urged to just live with it.

Our present leaders though, unsurprisingly, decided to take the economic and legal approach. And it wouldn’t work because as far as the Indonesians are concerned, their argument would be; help us if you must but don’t punish us. Because that’s what Singapore is trying to do with its convoluted legal framework in combating the haze.

The common sense of it all is that, thousands of livelihoods are dependent on the palm oil and forestry industries in Indonesia that bring in billions of dollars in foreign exchange. And then we have Singapore wanting to persecute and punish the companies that provide them with these just because we do not want to make the extra effort of wearing masks for three months of the year.

To the Indonesians, Singapore is prosperous and wealthy because its neighbours enabled them to be what it is. Would Singapore be rich with belligerent neighbours at its doorstep? No.

Have Singapore leaders thought of what would happen if the companies were forced to shut down thus depriving thousands of families of their livelihoods? Unrests and riots that may result in an unstable Indonesia.

We could argue that the haze had cost Singapore economy a few billions of dollars. The counter argument however, is that an unstable Indonesia would cost Singapore even more.

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