Indonesia's President Joko Widodo (R) shakes hands with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a joint press conference at the presidential palace in Jakarta on May 30, 2018.  / AFP PHOTO / Goh Chai Hin
Indonesia's President Joko Widodo (R) shakes hands with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a joint press conference at the presidential palace in Jakarta on May 30, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Goh Chai Hin

India and Indonesia have upgraded their bilateral ties to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership on the eve of 70 years of diplomatic relations bringing the Indo-Pacific into focus as they signed 15 MoUs or agreements. Prime Minister Modi, who is on a five-day three nation tour of Southeast Asia, was in Indonesia before moving on to Malaysia and Singapore (where he will deliver the Keynote Address at the Shangri-La Dialogue).

India and Indonesia have in the recent past witnessed some intensive engagement in the political, strategic, defence, security, and economic spheres. Meetings which took place included Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Security, Defence, Trade, the visit of the Chief of the Indonesian Armed Forces and of course the Modi-Jakowi meeting on January 25, 2018.

Defence and Security Cooperation

Indonesia as the biggest ASEAN member in its neighbourhood, constitutes an important part of its Act East Policy. It may be re-called that India and Indonesia had signed defence agreement in 2001. India and Indonesia relationship was upgraded to strategic partnership in 2005.

India’s relationship has spanned the spectrum from mil-mil relations (including exchange of high level visits by the chiefs) and space collaboration. The agreement between the two countries in the field of defence is the most important one. India and Indonesia have agreed to start a regular bilateral dialogue and consultation on strategic defence and military issues of common interest, exchange of strategic information, military

education, training and exercise, cooperation among the Armed Forces, humanitarian aid, disaster relief, peace-keeping and medical services among others. The Framework Agreement between India’s ISRO and Indonesia’s LAPAN was also signed for cooperation in the exploration and uses of outer space for peaceful purposes. This agreement has been further buttressed by a third MoU between the two countries on Scientific and Technological Cooperation, which would support collaboration in Information and Communication Technology, Marine Science and Technology, Energy Research, Disaster Management, Geospatial Information, Applied Chemistry, etc.

A more durable basis for policy coordination is provided by yet another MoU between the two countries on policy dialogue between the two governments and interaction between their think tanks. An important commitment which has been reiterated during the latest visit is with regard to the annual summit meetings of the leaders (which could be scheduled on the margins of a multilateral event).

Maritime Cooperation

Owing to their geo-strategic location, India and Indonesia share common concerns in the Indo-Pacific region. The two leaders welcomed the adoption of  the “Shared Vision on Maritime Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific between India and Indonesia”. There is immense potential for creating synergies between India’s Act East Policy and Prime Minister Modi’s vision of ‘SAGAR’ (Security and Growth for All in the Region) on one hand with President Joko Widodo’s Global Maritime Fulcrum Policy, on the other. The Indonesian President declared the Global Maritime Fulcrum (GMF) or what has been termed Jokowi’s ‘maritime axis doctrine’ at the Ninth East Asia Summit in Naypyidaw, Myanmar on November 13, 2014 in which he presented five pillars of the concept. Indonesia’s geographical location means that it is ‘gatekeeper of the two oceans’ and commands the major sea-lanes such as the Straits of Malacca, the Sunda Strait, the Lombok Strait and the Ombai-We-tar Strait.

It may be recalled that when President Jakowi visited India in 2016, Maritime cooperation was an important focus of discussions as is evident from the fact that a separate Joint Statement on Maritime cooperation issued on Dec 12, 2016 in which it was mentioned that the two had similar perceptions of the regional and global maritime environment. The two countries have been past Chairs of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and played active role in building a peaceful, stable and prosperious Indian Ocean region.

Energy Cooperation

An important move forward has been the willingness to progress from dependence on hydrocarbons and fossil fuels to renewable energy and  more energy efficient new and renewable energy technologies to ensure energy security. Tucked away in Para 45 is a pointer of utmost significance: “Both leaders welcomed potential cooperation in the area of peaceful use of nuclear energy and looked forward to the early renewal of an agreement on Cooperation regarding the Utilization of Nuclear Energy for Peaceful Purposes”.

Way Forward

After a long hiatus, the India-Indonesia relationship seems to be headed in a direction where the immense potential may begin to be realised. This is best indicated in the Eminent Persons’ Group Report which states: “There is considerable compatibility between India’s Act East Policy and the New Indian Ocean Policy, and Indonesia’s Maritime Fulcrum Policy. Our countries should promote maritime cooperation in defence and security, infrastructure, fisheries, and the Blue Economy as a whole. The two countries can work together to ensure peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific area of great strategic significance to both”.

Udai Bhanu Singh is Coordinator of the Centre for Southeast Asia and Oceania at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

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