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Indonesia: Singapore and Malaysia
Country Study > Chapter 4 > Government and Politics > Foreign Policy > Relations with Neighboring Nations > Singapore and Malaysia


Singapore, ASEAN's own ethnic Chinese newly industrialized economy (NIE), is geostrategically locked in the often suspicious embrace of its Indonesian and Malaysian neighbors. Twenty-five years after the end of Confrontation, a racially tinged, jealous Indonesian ambivalence toward Singapore, had been replaced by a fragile new economic and political warmth. Rather then see Indonesian economic development as part of a zero-sum game in competition with favored Singapore, Jakarta now sought to harness Singapore's capital, technology, and managerial expertise to its own abundant resources of land and labor in an economically integrative process of a growth triangle. Although the scheme theoretically included peninsular Malaysia's southernmost Johore state, the dynamic action of the growth triangle was on the islands of Indonesia's Riau Province -- Batam, Bintan, and Karimun- -to the south of Singapore. As long as Indonesia perceived the growth triangle in terms of functional interdependence in joint economic development at the maritime core of ASEAN, local and regionalized economic cooperation strengthened a common interest in good relations. If, on the other hand, aggressive Singapore private and state capital were to take on exploitative characteristics, threatening to turn Indonesian cheap labor, cheap land, and cheap water hinterland into a colonial-style dependency, the old antagonisms toward Singapore were likely to reemerge in Jakarta.

New interdependencies between Indonesia and Singapore had also been forged in the unlikely area of security cooperation. An unprecedented degree of military cooperation through personnel exchanges, joint military exercises, and a joint air combat range allowed Singapore to demonstrate its value as an ally in a South China Sea security environment. Influential nongovernmental Indonesian voices openly promoted military trilateralism among Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia.

In the years after the end of Confrontation, IndonesianMalaysian relations improved as both governments became committed to development and cooperation in ASEAN. This new warmth was reinforced by the natural affinities of race, religion, culture, and language. Irritants such as illegal Indonesian immigrants in Malaysia and Indonesian concerns about Malaysia's export of radical Islamic audio tapes existed, but intensive and extensive bilateral ties generally promoted good relations. Toward the end of the 1980s, however, a distancing between the senior leaderships of the two countries could be discerned as they took different approaches to the problems of interaction with their major trading partners and as Malaysia became uneasy about the developing relations between Singapore and Indonesia. Jakarta's 1992 rejection in ASEAN of Malaysia's East Asian Economic Group scheme underlined the different perceptions of the two capitals, differences that seemed to be growing. At the Nonaligned Movement summit, for example, Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohammad's radically South and Islamic stance was in sharp contrast to Suharto's moderate position.

Data as of November 1992

Last Updated: November 1992

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Indonesia was first published in 1993. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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