Richard Lloyd Parry
Since its foundation as an independent state in 1965 Singapore has had bad-tempered relations with its neighbours — and none is larger or more contrasting than Indonesia.
The latter is a sprawling archipelago of 17,500 islands and 240 million people where oases of wealth exist alongside deserts of poverty and deprivation.
The former is an affluent, educated and disciplined modern but overcrowded city state of 4.9 million.
While Indonesia has oil, gas, minerals and forests, Singapore sits on a swampy, malarial island without even enough water to supply its own needs.
The island also has long-term plans to ease its overcrowding by reclaiming land from the sea, and its appetite for sand and aggregates has been immense.
At independence Singapore was 581sq km (224sq miles). Now it is 710sq km and expanding. It gets through 1.5 billion cubic metres of dredged silica a year. The Government has been forced to draw on its strategic sand reserve, which Singapore hoards as other nations keep stocks of oil.
Indonesia’s reluctance to export its own earth is about more than environmental conscientiousness. If Indonesia loses its islands it also risks losing the rights to the ocean surrounding them.
Nipah Island, which is suffering erosion, is only 20km (12 miles) from Singapore. Every foot that it recedes reduces the maritime territory that is measured from its shore.
As Indonesia’s former intelligence chief, General Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono, said: “This could theoretically lead to a cartographic zero-sum game in which Singapore’s gain could be at Indonesia’s territorial loss.”