Indonesian and Singaporean leaders hold annual talks, joined this year by their successors

BOGOR, Indonesia (AP) — Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Monday celebrated the countries' continued cooperation at their seventh and final Leaders' Retreat in Jakarta, an annual meeting between the two Southeast Asian leaders that was also attended this year by their successors.

Lee’s visit to Indonesia is one of his last working trips before he hands over the reins of his administration to a new leader. The eldest son of Singaporean founding father Lee Kuan Yew announced his resignation earlier this month after two decades at the helm. His deputy prime minister and finance minister, Lawrence Wong, will succeed him in May.

Widodo, Indonesia's first president from outside the traditional Jakarta elite who is widely known by the nickname Jokowi, will be succeeded by Prabowo Subianto, who takes office in October.

All four top officials met Monday at the colonial-style Presidential Palace in Bogor, just outside Jakarta, as the retreat became a passing of the guard for both countries.

“I’m glad that President Jokowi and I are handing over the bilateral relationship in good state to our successors,” Lee said at a joint news conference with Widodo after the meeting. "I have every confidence that Mr. Prabowo and DPM Lawrence will continue to bring the relationship to greater heights."

Singapore's Prime Minister's Office said in a statement ahead of Lee's visit that the two leaders would take stock of the significant progress made in bilateral cooperation during their tenures.

Previously, the two countries ratified three milestone agreements, including a defense cooperation agreement and separate treaties on extradition and airspace.

The agreements were signed during the 2022 leaders’ retreat and came into effect this year.

At this year's retreat, the leaders oversaw the signing of several agreements, including an update on defense cooperation which Lee said reflects the two countries' robust defense ties.

A similar defense agreement was first signed by the two countries in April 2007, but didn’t to go into effect after opposition in Indonesia’s Parliament.

The defense cooperation agreement will significantly boost Singapore’s ability to carry out naval and military exercises amid regional tensions over China’s growing military strength.

The island city-state lacks maritime, land and airspace to effectively train its military. Indonesia, which holds huge land and maritime areas, has agreed to let Singapore carry out naval exercises with other nations in the Bravo area of the South China Sea four times a year — terms that previously faced criticism from Indonesian lawmakers.

“We completed these agreements, and they went into force last month,” Lee said. “This shows that when we work together in a spirit of friendship and openness, we can address even the most complicated issues in a pragmatic and mutually beneficial manner.”

Widodo said they also discussed regional and global issues.

“We agreed to continue to encourage peace in the Middle East region and vowed to strengthen ASEAN centrality,” Widodo said, referring to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

He added that Indonesia and Singapore agreed to cooperate on food security, energy transition, digital economy and healthcare.

The development of Nusantara, Indonesia's new capital on Borneo, was also discussed. About 29 Singaporean companies have signed letters of intent to invest.

Indonesia's Investment Ministry says Singapore was the largest foreign investor last year. Lee said investment from Singapore in Indonesia has increased steadily and cumulatively has exceeded 74 billion Singapore dollars ($54 billion).

Lee praised Widodo's vision and leadership, saying he raised ASEAN's standing in international affairs and brought stability and progress to Indonesia and the entire region.

He said Indonesia, as Southeast Asia’s largest economy and one of Singapore’s closest neighbors, is on track to be one of the world's largest economies.

“When Indonesia prospers, the region prosters," Lee said.


Karmini reported from Jakarta, Indonesia.