I’ve come to show Indonesia is safe: PM Goh


Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong wrapped up his visit to Indonesia yesterday by fielding questions from reporters on his assessment of Indonesia, the fight against terrorism and his meetings with Muslim leaders. Below are edited excerpts of his replies.

Q: What was your purpose in coming to Indonesia?

PM Goh: Singapore is a close neighbour and a close friend of Indonesia. As an Indonesian put it, a close neighbour is better than a distant relative. So I came here to show support to President Megawati and her government in the efforts they are making to deal with the terrorist threat.

Are Singapore-Indonesia relations moving into a new phase?

Our bilateral relations with Indonesia have always been good. We are not entering into a new phase. We already are in a new phase of relations after President Megawati took over from her predecessors. The last two presidents had sometimes made unfriendly remarks against Singapore. We are now consolidating our relationship with Indonesia.

What can Singapore do to help Indonesia?

The main thing we can do is to try and highlight positive sentiments in Indonesia. Indonesia is suffering from bad press after the Bali bomb blast and the perceived slowness of Indonesia’s reaction to the terrorist threat.

We need to tell investors and the rest of the world that Indonesia is a very complex country. The government is doing as much as it can to deal with the problem. We need to give the government more time.

It is a good sign that STT (Singapore Technologies Telemedia) made a bid for shares in Indosat. It shows that at least one major Singapore company has full confidence in Indonesia’s potential. So we were delighted that STT was awarded the bid for a 42-per-cent share in Indosat. This will generate positive sentiment in Indonesia. That is the contribution we can make. It is private-sector driven investment.

What assessments did you get in your meetings with the economic ministers?

The macro-economics is right. The rupiah has strengthened. The inflation rate is lower, the Budget situation is manageable now. Interest rates are low. The macro-economic statistics are under control with IMF management.

But the micro-economic situation is what causes concern in Indonesia and Singapore: the relocation of Sony’s plant from Indonesia to Malaysia and the pullout of Nike factories out of Indonesia.

The ministers here understand that they need to pay close attention to the factors that push investments out of Indonesia. They are still getting investments but mainly from infrastructural projects.

They are not attracting investments into labour-intensive factories because of competition from China and Vietnam.

Domestic factors like security and labour laws are the main reasons why they are not able to attract investors.

There are reportedly 5,000 terrorists in the region. How big a threat are they to the region, and also to Singapore?

We are very concerned about this. Of course, we explained that this is a small number as a percentage of the Indonesian population. And the bulk of the population is very moderate. We know that there we should not confuse these few people with the general Muslim population in Indonesia.

Do you feel safe in Jakarta?

I feel very safe. And that’s one reason why I’ve come, to show the rest of the world that this is a safe place. And if you say this place is unsafe, I would say many places in the world are unsafe.

I felt comfortable over here. The Indonesian side would ensure my safety. But the point is the public – the tourists must also feel safe.

Did the Islamic leaders you meet give you a sense of how much of a backlash there would be if the US attacked Iraq?

They are very worried. If the US attacks Iraq outside the UN framework, they will have a real problem because Muslims will react to a unilateral attack by the US.

If the US decides to invade Iraq within the UN framework and in accordance with the UN resolution, there would still be a problem, but much less so because Indonesia is a member of the UN. Indonesia therefore has to support what the UN decides to do. The US is merely implementing the UN resolution on behalf of UN members.

Then the question of impact depends on how quickly and decisive the war against Iraq would be and what kind of casualties there would be. This is an issue that concerns them because Indonesia has a huge number of Muslims.

Singapore’s position is that it will support any decision by the UN because it is a member of the UN. But we too will be worried about how our population will react.

There has been an uproar in Indonesia and Malaysia about Australian Premier John Howard’s comments on the need for preemptive strikes against terrorists in other countries. What is Singapore’s position?

The best way to respond would be to ensure that Singapore does not become a place where terrorists plan attacks against other countries.

We should deny anyone, whether it is Australia or another country, the need to come to Singapore to take preemptive strikes. We ourselves should make sure that the terrorist cells are identified and rooted out. That is Singapore’s response.

If a country feels that there is a need to defend itself against terror attacks emanating from another country, our position is that it ought to be done within the framework of international law.

Megawati’s strong conviction

She is a very cautious leader. Her political conviction is very strong. She knows what she is doing. She is very much underestimated by many people. Her style is very different from leaders in large democratic countries like America or in Europe or even in a small country like Singapore. Her style is Javanese. I can tell you she knows what she is doing and she has a strong conviction of her role in Indonesia.’
– PM Goh on Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri

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