Conference: Political and Economic Trends in the Riau Islands


To Singapore’s immediate south, the Indonesian Province of the Riau Islands (PRI) has a population of 1.7 million and a land area of 8,200 sq kilometres scattered across some 2,400 islands. The better-known islands include: Batam, the province’s economic motor; Bintan, the site of provincial capital, Tanjungpinang, and the area’s cultural heartland; and Karimun, strategically located near the Straits of Malacca.

Historically, the Riau Islands – and particularly Batam – have been a key part of Indonesia’s strategy to develop its manufacturing sector. Specialized infrastructure and liberalized regulations helped attract substantial foreign investment in the 1990s. In addition to generating a large number of formal sector jobs and earning foreign exchange for the country, this paved the way for a number of far-reaching political and social developments.

Incomes rose rapidly, making the Riau Islands one of the country’s richest regions. Consequently, the Islands have experienced large-scale migration from other parts of the country, dramatically increasing its population, changing its demographic and political complexion, and challenging urban infrastructure and the environment.

These changes have also had political ramifications. Due to its greater wealth, global connections, and archipelagic identity, local leaders lobbied for the creation of a new province for the Riau Islands. The Islands’ changing ethnic composition has led to more vocal identity politics and its large formal sector workforce has become an important site for industrial relations activities.

And, long oriented towards foreign direct investment and production for export, the Province of the Riau Islands has been hit by downturns in its two largest employment generators – the electrical and electronics and the shipyard sectors. Recent trends in investment into Indonesia indicate that firms are seeking to tap the country’s burgeoning domestic market, rather than produce for export. Yet, in this context, the Riau Islands offer little of benefit, due to the province’s low population base, poor connectivity, and distance from major urban centres.

Adopting a multi-disciplinary approach, this conference will explore current political and economic developments in the Riau Islands. This will be done around the following three themes:

Rapid Economic Change: what have been the social, political, and environmental effects of the rapid economic change seen in the Riau Islands?

Decentralization: how have the decentralization reforms affected the Riau Islands, including enabling the provincial secession movement to succeed, as well as potentially threatening its viability through attempts to create additional political units?

Development Model: to what extent can or should the Province seek to re-orient its export production model to cater to increasing flows of investment seeking to tap Indonesia’s domestic market?

Programme: The Symposium’s programme can be found here.

Attendance to the Conference is free of charge but registration is required by 18 April 2017.

Registration: To register, please complete this form and return it by fax:  6775-6264 or email it to by 17 April  2017.

As seats are limited, please register early.  Admission to the Conference can only be taken as confirmed upon receiving the written acceptance from ISEAS.

For any queries, please feel free to e-mail

Best wishes

Dr Francis Hutchinson and Dr Siwage Dharma Negara



Apr 20 2017


8:30 am - 3:40 pm


ISEAS Seminar Room 1 & 2