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Insights into Editorial: A Maritime Stretch: Modi in Southeast Asia
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Southeast Asia has the potential to spark a new period of maritime cooperation between India and Indonesia.
An uptick in India-Indonesia relations will be a welcome development through their respective ‘Global Maritime Fulcrum’ and ‘Act East’ policies have envisaged sharper maritime collaboration in the region.
The India and Indonesia shared the view on the imperative need to eradicate radicalism and reiterated the importance of promoting peaceful pluralism that would lead to true civilisation harmony, and moderation through a holistic approach.
India and Indonesia Relationship:
Highlighting “strong” bilateral relationship between both the countries. Both India and Indonesia have a sensitive outlook when it comes to helping those in need. They do not see the colour of anyone’s passport, they help their fellow humans who require any assistance.
The Prime Minister used the opportunity to announce that India is making arrangements for free of cost visa for Indonesian citizens for travel of up to 30 days.
Prime Minister Modi also heaped praises on the Indian diaspora in Jakarta and recognised their “commitment” towards keeping their Indian heritage alive.
PM praised that they are equally committed to their roots in India. Prime Minister said that India’s Act East Policy and the vision of SAGAR (Security and Growth for all in the Region) matches President Widodo’s Maritime Fulcrum Policy.
He also said that India and Indonesia will double their efforts to take bilateral trade to USD 50 billion by 2025.
The two countries signed 15 agreements including on the cooperation in the field of defence, space, science and technology, railways and health.
China, the common concern for India and Indonesia:
Recently, there is an offer from the Indonesian government to grant India access to its Sabang port for the development of the port and an economic zone. Located at the mouth of the strategically important Strait of Malacca, Sabang is only 100 nautical miles from the southern tip of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
India and Indonesia share multiple common concerns, one of which is China’s growing maritime footprint in the eastern Indian Ocean. Sabang, with its naval base, naval air station, and maintenance and repair facilities, has the potential to serve as the focal point of a budding strategic partnership between the two countries.
Both countries value the key sea lines of communication (SLOCs) that connect the Indian Ocean to the Pacific, and therefore the foundation of any strategic partnership will rest on how they both seek to manage the region’s strategically important chokepoints.
The strategically important Straits of Malacca, Lombok and Sunda fall under the Indian Navy’s primary area of interest, and access to Indonesian naval bases such as Sabang will significantly enhance the Indian Navy’s ability to maintain a forward presence and monitor movements in the Straits of Malacca.
Indonesia and China:
Indonesia too has started recognising the benefits of a closer strategic partnership with India but the territorial dispute between China and Indonesia in the Natuna Sea is an issue that is close to Indonesia, and a strategic alignment with India will help Jakarta balance some of the security concerns emanating from Beijing’s aggressive stance in the South China Sea.
Areas of engagement: India and Indonesia:
Indonesia, on its end, will also seek to negotiate the delimitation of the exclusive economic zone shared by the two nations in the Andaman Sea.
Additional facets of this partnership can involve information sharing on white shipping, and enabling India to partner Indonesia in tracking commercial cargo ships at choke points such as Malacca which are getting increasingly congested.
In the past, cooperation between India and Indonesia has been limited to anti-piracy patrols, search and rescue exercises and joint hydrographic exploration. It is important for the two countries to move to a more concerted and intensive engagement.
India should leverage this opportunity and seek its inclusion in the Malacca Strait Patrols programme. India’s inclusion in the programme would augment India’s existing maritime domain awareness in the region, while the eyes-in-the-sky component will allow India to jointly patrol the region with its maritime surveillance aircraft.
India’s ability to monitor Chinese naval movements in the locale will be a great boost to the Indian Navy’s security missions. Moreover, access to the Jayapura naval base in West Papua will expand the Indian Navy’s operating capacity in the Western Pacific, and complement Indian access to French naval bases in French Polynesia and New Caledonia in the Southern Pacific.
The comprehensive defence cooperation agreement that is expected to be signed between the countries can possibly be a multifaceted logistical agreement — on the lines of the deal which India signed with France.
Mutual logistical support and reciprocal berthing rights will facilitate a more intimate maritime security partnership. This will allow India to gain access to naval bases in Lampung on the Sunda Strait, and Denpasar and Banyuwangi on the Lombok Strait, augmenting the Indian Navy’s operational breadth in the eastern Indian Ocean.
At a time when countries are realigning themselves to accommodate the growing consensus around an Indo-Pacific strategic framework, India and Indonesia, as members of the Indian Ocean Rim Association, need to complement each other’s vision of a regional order.
Prime Minister Mr. Modi is due to deliver the keynote at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore and needs to use this opportunity to make public the strategic framework of ‘Act East’ policy.
India needs to supplement efforts in Jakarta and leverage its existing strategic relations with Singapore and other like-minded regional states if it is to cement its position as a ‘net security provider’ in the Indian Ocean.
A closer logistical partnership with countries such as Singapore, Australia and Indonesia can be the starting point of an extensive strategic linkage that will help establish India as a regional provider of maritime security.
A strategic confluence between New Delhi and Jakarta needs an economic direction. The development of the port and economic zone in Sabang can serve as blueprint for a connectivity partnership between the two nations, and more importantly, provide an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The proposed cruise tourism circuit between the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Sabang would further enhance such economic linkages.
Additionally, a partnership that includes collaboration in defence industries and maritime training and education can ensure a dynamic maritime collaboration.
Today, Modi and Jokowi have the opportunity to build a peaceful and prosperous “maritime mandala” in the heart of the Indo-Pacific through a number of steps. These include developing shipping links, building new ports, promoting a blue economy in the Andaman Sea, and advancing cooperative security framework for the Malacca Straits and the Bay of Bengal.
The time has come for India to realise the potential of a strategic alignment with the Indonesia that is geo-politically positioned at the centre of the Indo-Pacific, and an upgrade in maritime relations is the logical way forward.