India, Indonesia transform ties, deepen Indo-Pacific connect

Putting the spotlight on India’s accelerating Act East Policy, India and Indonesia have upgraded their bilateral relationship to the level of comprehensive strategic partnership and signed a slew of pacts in diverse areas, including enhanced defence cooperation, space, development and trade and investment.

The talks between India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the majestic presidential palace in Jakarta on May 30 culminated in an ambitious vision statement on enhanced maritime cooperation in shaping an inclusive Indo-Pacific architecture.

The talks provided an impetus to plans to develop a strategic Indonesian naval port at Sabang, which is located on the tip of Sumatra island and at the mouth of the Malacca Strait, the hub of global maritime trade.

The upgraded comprehensive strategic partnership translated into setting up of new mechanisms including bilateral security dialogue, trilateral dialogue, signing of an enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and Framework Agreement on Cooperation in the Exploration and Uses of Outer Space for Peaceful Purposes.

“India is a strategic defence partner…and we will continue to advance our cooperation in developing infrastructure, including at Sabang Island and the Andaman Islands,” Mr Widodo told journalists after the talks.

“The India-ASEAN partnership can be a force to guarantee peace and progress in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond,” said PM Modi.

The leaders underscored the decision of setting up a joint task force to investigate projects for ‘port related infrastructure in and around Sabang’. A port in Sabang will not only help in maintaining better security and trade in the maritime region of Indo-Pacific Ocean, but it will also help in deterring the increasing presence of China in the region.

The deepening of India-Indonesia maritime connect in the Indo-Pacific region is unfolding in the backdrop of China’s growing maritime influence and assertiveness in the region. Both India and Indonesia have extensive economic ties with China, but are coming closer to shape a more balanced regional order.

This maritime connect was reflected in a standalone statement entitled, “Shared Vision of India-Indonesia Maritime Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.” This shared vision underscored the “convergences and complementarities in the region between India’s Act East Policy and Security and Growth for all in the Region (SAGAR), and Indonesian Ocean Policy and Indonesia’s Global Maritime Fulcrum Vision, while reaffirming the importance of the ASEAN centrality and unity.”

The two sides also renewed their commitment to “achieving a free, open, transparent, rules-based, peaceful, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region, where sovereignty and territorial integrity, international law, in particular UNCLOS, freedom of navigation and overflight, sustainable development and an open, free, fair and mutually beneficial trade and investment system are respected.”

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