India, Indonesia bolster defense relationship

India, Indonesia bolster defense relationship

Hamid Sellak

India and Indonesia continued to strengthen defense and security ties in early 2018.

The two countries’ first security dialogue on January 9, 2018, marked another phase in a series of related meetings and agreements they have achieved in recent decades. It also corresponds to India’s 25 years of relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the intergovernmental group Indonesia shares with nine other nations.

“This meeting is a follow-up of several agreements between Indonesia and India for the enhancement of cooperation between the two countries,” Indonesia’s Gen. Wiranto said in a prepared statement. He described it further as “very constructive, with concrete steps that both countries will pursue in countering terrorism, maritime security, cyber security and defense cooperation.”

Wiranto, who goes by one name, serves as his country’s minister for politics, law and security. He led the dialogue along with India’s national security advisor, Ajit Doval.

The dialogue came on the heels of Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s state visit to India in December 2017 at the invitation of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. During the visit,  both leaders agreed on the importance of carrying forward bilateral cooperation in facing common security challenges.

“The security dialogue is part of the larger overall cooperation,” said Prateek Joshi, senior researcher with the Delhi-based think tank, Vivekananda International Foundation. “The main issues of concern are religious radicalism and terrorism, as well as topics relating to China.’’

Indonesia and India, respectively, have the two largest Muslim communities in the world, Joshi said in a talk with FORUM. “Among these populations, there are relatively small but significant pockets of radicalism, and there is room for cooperation there.”

Earlier in January, Indian Foreign Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was in Jakarta to attend the 5th Joint Commission Meeting Between Indonesia and India where the two countries, in a joint statement by Swaraj and her Indonesian counterpart, Retno Marsudi, “unequivocally condemned terrorism in all its forms and called upon all countries to stop providing state sponsorship of terrorism and prevent their territories being used for establishing terrorist safe havens.”

Guidelines for maritime security cooperation, important for Indonesia’s 17,000 islands and India’s 7,500-kilometer coastline, were presented during Widodo’s visit. Vision Document 25 recommends combined maritime patrols, regular exchanges and joint exercises, intelligence sharing and joint production of defense equipment and systems.

No common posture has been taken, however, regarding the two countries’ issues with China, said Joshi, adding that “Indonesia will not go publicly against China to support India.”

China’s trade and foreign policies concern both India and Indonesia and members of ASEAN. However, according to Joshi, China’s practice of dealing with each country individually has prevented ASEAN from speaking about China with a single voice.

ASEAN’s members include Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. It cooperates with India in the ASEAN-India Free Trade Area and other mechanisms.

“India could indeed be an alternative to China as a strong partner in the region,” he said. “If it manages to strengthen ties with Indonesia, this could build confidence with other ASEAN countries.”

India is promoting its Act East Policy, which aims to strengthen multifaceted relationships with ASEAN member countries, and celebrated its 25th anniversary of relations with the group at the latest ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit, held in New Delhi on January 25, 2018. (Pictured: Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, right, greets Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu at the Indian Ministry of Defence in New Delhi on January 19, 2018.)

One sticking point among ASEAN members, said Joshi, is the plight of the Rohingya population of Burma.

“India is in a good position to mediate differences on this issue,” he said, “and help ASEAN to speak with one voice, which it needs to.”

Hamid Sellak is a FORUM contributor reporting from Malaysia.