Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Southeast Asia this week has the potential to ignite a new period of maritime cooperation between India and Indonesia. An increase in India-Indonesia relations will be a welcome event for both President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) and Mr. Modi, who through their respective policies ‘Global Maritime Fulcrum’ and ‘Act East’ have planned a maritime collaboration sharpest in the region.
China, the common concern
The visit takes place in the context of an offer from the Indonesian government to grant India access to its port of Sabang for the development of the port and an economic zone. Located at the mouth of the strategic 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, its naval air station and its maintenance and repair facilities, has the potential to serve as a focal point of a budding strategic partnership between the two countries.
Both countries value the key maritime communication lines (SLOC) that connect the Indian Ocean with the Pacific and, therefore, the basis of any strategic partnership will depend on the way in which both seek to manage strategically important points of strangulation in the region. . The strategically important Straits of Malacca, Lombok and Sunda fall under the main area of interest of the Indian Navy, and access to Indonesian naval bases such as Sabang will significantly improve the ability of the Indian Navy to maintain an advanced presence and monitor movements in the Strait of Malacca.
Indonesia has also begun to recognize the benefits of a closer strategic partnership with India. Like many other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Jakarta remains suspicious of Chinese intentions in the broad maritime theater. The territorial dispute between China and Indonesia in the Natuna Sea is an issue close to Mr. Jokowi, and a strategic alignment with India will help Jakarta balance some of the security concerns that arise from Beijing’s aggressive stance in the Sea of Japan. South of China.
The comprehensive defense cooperation agreement that is expected to be signed between the countries can possibly be a multifaceted logistic agreement, in line with the agreement that India signed with France earlier this year. Mutual logistical support and reciprocal berthing rights will facilitate a more intimate maritime security partnership. This will allow India to access naval bases in Lampung, in the Sunda Strait, and Denpasar and Banyuwangi in the Lombok Strait, which will increase the operational range of the Indian Navy in the eastern Indian Ocean.
Areas of commitment
Indonesia, at its extreme, will also try to negotiate the delimitation of the exclusive economic zone shared by the two nations in the Andaman Sea. Additional facets of this partnership may involve the exchange of information on the shipment of targets and the possibility of India partnering with Indonesia in tracking commercial cargo vessels at bottlenecks such as Malacca, which are becoming 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 that the two countries make a more concerted and intensive commitment. India should take this opportunity and seek inclusion in the Malacca Strait Patrols program. The inclusion of India in the program will increase the awareness of India’s existing maritime domain in the region, while the eye component in the sky will allow India to jointly patrol the region with its maritime surveillance aircraft. The Chinese presence in these SLOCs is well known, and India’s ability to control Chinese naval movements in place will be a major boost for the Indian Navy’s security missions. In addition, access to the Jayapura naval base in West Papua will expand the operational capacity of the Indian Navy in the western Pacific and will complement Indian access to French naval bases in French Polynesia and New Caledonia in the South Pacific.