India, Indonesia boost defense cooperation, plan to develop strategic Indian Ocean port
India and Indonesia have agreed to develop a naval port on the tip of Sumatra in the Indian Ocean, a strategic move that comes as China continues expanding its maritime footprint in the region.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Indonesian President Joko Widodo also agreed in late May 2018 to align their national maritime policies, marking the first time India created such a shared vision with one of its Association of Southeast Asian (ASEAN) neighbors, The Times of India newspaper reported. (Pictured: Indonesian President Joko Widodo, right, watches as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes a seat before signing the visitors book at the presidential palace in Jakarta on May 30, 2018.)
“The India-ASEAN partnership can be a force to guarantee peace and progress in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond,” Modi said, according to Reuters.
The two countries stressed the “importance of achieving a free, open, transparent, rules-based, peaceful, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region, where sovereignty and territorial integrity, international law, freedom of navigation and overflight, sustainable development and an open, free, fair and mutually beneficial trade and investment system are respected,” according to The Times of India. Such a maritime trajectory differs from that of China, which continues to assert its dominance in the South China Sea and over other waterways and resources in the Indo-Pacific region.
The defense-partnerships boost between India and Indonesia represents just one example of how countries throughout the region have reacted to China’s assertiveness and acted to counter it.
Neither India nor Indonesia is a claimant in the South China Sea dispute; however, Indonesia has clashed with China over fishing rights around the Natuna Islands and expanded its military presence there. Indonesia also renamed the northern areas of its exclusive economic zone to reassert its sovereignty.
In addition to the naval port agreement, Modi and Widodo discussed cooperation in other defense areas that included trade and economic cooperation. Their talks culminated in the signing of nine government-to-government pacts across defense, space and railway sectors, The Economic Times, an English-language Indian newspaper, reported. The defense pact entails regular bilateral dialogue and consultation on strategic defense and military issues of common interest, exchange of strategic information, military education, training and exercise, cooperation among the armed forces, including army, navy, air force and aerospace, humanitarian aid, disaster relief, peacekeeping and medical services. The estimated boost in bilateral trade through 2025, according to The Economic Times, will total U.S. $50 billion.