Regional politics in Southeast Asia have been especially tough lately. Harsh words have been flung between Indonesia and Singapore over charges of exploitation of the poor archipelago by the richer, Chinese-dominated mini-state. To the north, Malaysia and Singapore have traded verbal blows over the position and advancement of their Malay communities. While these wrangles may dominate the headlines, regional business appears to have been making much better headway. There are few better examples than the fast-spreading network of international gas pipelines, which are binding the three countries ever more closely together. Despite the sometimes bitter jibes between Goh Chok Tong, Abdurrahman Wahid and Mahathir Mohamad, state-linked companies are forging ahead with two-way deals. The next significant tie-up on the horizon links Gas Supply, a subsidiary of Singapore Power, the energy company, and Pertamina, Jakarta's oil and gas giant. The two sides will sit down in the Indonesian capital on February 12 to sign a 20-year deal to pipe gas from South Sumatra into Singapore. The signatures will firm up a letter of agreement concluded in September 1999 to construct a 325-kilometre pipeline from Sakernan in Jambi Province, to Batam Island, just off Singapore, and then onward to Gas Supply's terminal. Deliveries from the project are set to start in 2003 and the headline value of the deal was put at US$7 billion by a Singapore Power official this week. The company reserved the right to keep all 2.27 trillion cubic feet of gas to augment its power output, but might opt to sell some of it direct to industrial or domestic users, the official said. Next up, Kuala Lumpur's Petronas is talking with Pertamina about tapping into Indonesia's vast West Natuna Sea fields, just to the east of Peninsula Malaysia. A deal will be signed on or before April 1, also for 20 years, for a 96km pipeline to supply 100 million cubic feet a day initially, rising to 250 million from 2009. It was valued recently by Iin Arifin Takhyan, Pertamina's director of production-sharing contracts, at US$8.5 billion, with up-front investment of about US$2.5 billion. These two link-ups follow swiftly behind an US$8 billion, 22-year deal between SembCorp, a government-linked Singapore company, and Pertamina, for a 640km pipeline. Also from the West Natuna Sea, the first deliveries of gas started flowing last month, about six months ahead of schedule. At a rainswept inauguration on Jurong Island Industrial Estate, George Yeo, Singapore's minister for trade and industry, lauded the project as 'a physical manifestation of the close partnership between Indonesia and Singapore based on mutual benefit and respect'. All three schemes have drawn extensive support from Western energy firms, which operate the Indonesian fields under production-sharing contracts. US-based Conoco had a hand in both the Natuna-Singapore project and the deal with Petronas; while Canada's Gulf Resources has been active with the Singapore Power and SembCorp links. Others involved include the US' Sante Fe Energy, in Jambi, and Premier Oil of Britain in the SembCorp project. The significance of the spate of tie-ups is threefold. First, they move the region towards a truly integrated international gas grid, able to balance supply and demand more effectively. Vietnam is understood to be exploring its own link offshore, while Thailand has already hooked into Burma's gas fields. Another link, connecting Malaysia and Thailand, is also being looked at. Secondly, for Jakarta at least, the agreements with Pertamina enable the cash-strapped government access to potentially significant funds. Rizal Ramli, Indonesia's leading economics minister, said the country planned to securitise the future income streams from the gas sales, freeing up resources for an economy in need of investment. Last but not least, the contracts now coming to fruition represent tangible signs of co-operation in a region beset by internal problems and sometimes heated bilateral relations. Money, it seems, can talk just as loudly as the politicians.