Problematic Singapore treaties

Ardimas Sasdi
Jakarta Post
04 June 07

The combining of the extradition treaty and the controversial defense pact into one package shows the sophistication of Singapore’s negotiators and the dismal record of their Indonesian counterparts. Not the other way around.

In a sudden shift to its recalcitrant policy, Singapore said recently that it had agreed to sign a long-awaited extradition treaty with Indonesia, paving the way for Indonesia to bring back fugitive businessmen and former government officials involved in corruption and other crimes, who are now living and investing their ill-gotten gains in the city state.

But the sudden shift in Singapore’s policy begs the question – what is the real motive behind the about-face?

The fog soon lifts after it becomes clear that the treaty, the signing of which is subject to ratification by the parliaments of both countries, makes up a single package with the controversial defense pact. Neither Singapore nor Indonesia have said publicly who attached the strings to the extradition treaty.

But Singapore, with a population of 4.4 million people and an area of only 660 square kilometers, urgently needs a training ground for its defense forces. On the other hand, Indonesia has abundant empty spaces for war games, and needs to recover the money stolen by the corruptors. But such thinking is too simplistic as giving freedom to another country to conduct military exercises within our territory is analogous to allowing someone to play with fire in our backyard.

Under normal conditions, only a fool or a madman would permit another person to use his yard as a military training ground. Why? The use of an area by another country for regular military exercises involves the safety of people living in and around the area, transportation, communications, the environment, security and, more importantly, the sovereignty of the nation.

One of the clauses in the defense pact allows Singapore to build a permanent training ground on Indonesian land, the location of which will be determined later, and conduct military exercises in the designated area under monitoring by the Indonesian Military.

The signing of the extradition treaty could affect Singapore’s economy as the fugitives might flee the country once they start feeling insecure and move to other countries that offer them sanctuary. Of course, they will bring their money with them.

If this happens, Indonesia will also suffer as it will not get anything from the treaty, but Singapore will get a training ground for its military.

The opposition from the administration of Riau Islands province, where the military training ground will likely be located, should be seen from this perspective. The project will adversely affect the environment, transportation, communications, security and the livelihoods of local people like farmers and fishermen.

The ball is now in the court of the House of Representatives, which is deliberating the treaty and the pact.

The House, which has the final say on whether to ratify the two treaties, should put our national interest before everything else and scrutinize the treaty and pact word by word, taking into account all the consequences that are likely to ensue.

Some of the crucial points are our image as an independent nation, the short- and long-term financial benefits, and military development.

Another long-standing issue that needs to be addressed is the way in which we approach bilateral issues. In the last 40 years, Indonesia has adopted a policy of peaceful coexistence with all of her neighbors, including Singapore, helping to create political stability and spur economic growth in the region.

Indonesia should continue to act as a good and responsible big brother to her smaller neighbors by protecting their interests. On the other hand, however, Indonesia needs to protect its own interests by treating this plan to build a military training camp for Singapore in a businesslike manner.

Indonesia has long been on the losing side in its cooperation agreements with Singapore. This is because Indonesia, which wants to appear as a friendly big brother is constrained by the feeling of sungkan (reluctant to treat things at face value) during negotiations.

On the hand Singapore, who has sharp business acumen and is literate in the law, sees things in terms of profit and loss, and in the long-term way that things are seen by Western countries.

Our short-sightedness in signing agreements with Singapore for things like the supply of sand and water from the Riau Islands, and the sale of shares in our telecommunications companies, should teach the lawmakers a lesson and encourage them to debate the extradition treaty and defense fact in a more serious manner.

We must continue to behave as a big and friendly brother, but treat things realistically

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