Singapore-Indonesia Ties Go Beyond Sand Row: FM

SINGAPORE ~ There is more to Singapore-Indonesia ties than the current row over the supply of sand and granite, Foreign Minister George Yeo has said.

“If you look at our bilateral relations with Indonesia on the whole, it is a big account and we are mutually dependent in so many ways,” Yeo told parliament on Monday.

“There are specific problems here and there, and it is best that we manage them as discreet problems rather than linking everything together.”

Indonesia has banned the export of land sand to Singapore, and stricter checks by the Indonesian Navy on barges bound for the island republic have disrupted granite supplies as well.

Sand and granite are key ingredients for concrete used in Singapore’s vibrant building and construction sector, which has rebounded from the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

Yeo said Singapore was taking “at face value” Indonesia’s official explanation that the ban was taken to protect the environment.

Some Indonesian officials have been quoted in the Indonesian media as saying the ban was taken to pressure Singapore to sign an extradition treaty which Jakarta says is crucial to its fight against corruption.

A number of suspects wanted in Indonesia on corruption charges have fled to Singapore to escape the reach of Indonesian justice, officials in Jakarta allege.

“If any country, in effecting a ban on exports, does so in a way which contravenes the WTO (World Trade Organisation) or ASEAN’s economic agreement, then we can invoke dispute mechanisms within those agreements,” Yeo said.

“But I believe it is within Indonesia’s rights for environmental reasons to ban the export of sand and it has done so for environmental reasons … We have got to take it (reason) at face value.”

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