This week, Indonesia and Singapore jointly submitted a new maritime boundary pact agreed by both sides to the United Nations. Though the development was a logical next step for the two parties following progress achieved beforehand, it was nonetheless significant within the context of the management of a challenging bilateral relationship that is commemorating a major anniversary this year.
As I have pointed out before at The Diplomat, the security relationship between Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest state, and Singapore, the subregion’s smallest, has traditionally tended to be quite prickly. In recent years, though disagreements have tended to simmer, whether around traditional issues like air space of non-traditional security matters like the annual haze problem, both sides have tried to maintain a cordial defense relationship and have made efforts to better manage lingering challenges (See: “Indonesia, Singapore Conclude Military Exercise Amid Anniversary“).
A case in point came this year when both sides reached a significant milestone with the conclusion of a landmark maritime boundary treaty that came into force in February as the two countries commemorate the 50th anniversary of their relationship. The treaty, which was originally signed in Singapore on September 3, 2014, had been brought into force on February 10, 2017 after the two foreign ministers, Retno Marsudi and Vivian Balakrishnan, had exchanged the Instruments of Ratification for the Treaty. It was the third such treaty relating to the delimitation of the territorial sea boundary between the two countries following the first in 1973 and the second in 2009.
The progress on the maritime boundary treaty has unsurprisingly been emphasized even more by officials this year within the context of the broader relationship with the 50th anniversary, an occasion that both sides had long been preparing for. This includes the annual Leaders’ Retreat between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo that was held earlier this month. The theme for the anniversary, used at the Leaders’ Retreat as well, has been referred to as RISING (combining the acronym from Republic of Indonesia, RI, with the shortened form of Singapore, SING, in an indicator of the growing trajectory of ties).
On September 25, at a ceremony at the Office of the United Nations Undersecretary-General of Legal Affairs Miguel de Serpa Soares, in accordance with the UN Charter, Balakrishnan and Marsudi jointly submitted the treaty for registration in conjunction with the commemoration of the 50th anniversary between the two sides. The move, a natural next step for both sides following their agreement in February, was hailed as a “significant milestone in bilateral relations” by the Singapore Foreign Ministry as it illustrated both sides’ commitment to resolve complex issues amicably on the basis of international law.