Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is famous for his state visits and bolstering bilateral relations through soft-power diplomacy. He is now scheduled to visit Indonesia late this month, where strengthening maritime security cooperation could be in the limelight. It was earlier expected that Modi would follow the path of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who during his first state visit to Indonesia to meet Sukarno had featured three port cities, as he sailed into the country on board INS Delhi in June 1950. Modi’s first stop in the upcoming visit was supposed to be Sabang, a port city in Sumatra.
But according to various sources in the Indonesian government, the Sabang trip might be canceled because of bad weather conditions. His first stop will now be Jakarta. Nevertheless, Modi will discuss developing a seaport in Aceh province, which is only 80 nautical miles from India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands. This plan falls under the purview of India’s dynamic Indo-Pacific strategy to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative and maintaining peace and stability in the region.
Ahead of Modi’s visit, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for maritime affairs, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, visited India to talk over bilateral cooperation in the maritime sphere. In a public lecture at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library hosted by the Embassy of Indonesia in India, he shed light on Indonesia’s maritime policy and how India and Indonesia can cooperate in this sector.
The former military officer, who is a stalwart in Indonesian politics, stressed the fact that in spite of Indonesia being an archipelagic state, it had never cared for the maritime sphere. It was only after the unveiling of the Global Maritime Fulcrum (GMF) by Indonesian President Joko Widodo in November 2014 that Indonesia positioned itself as a potent competitor in determining the future discourse of Pacific and Indian Ocean region. Luhut added: “India and Indonesia now have a duty to advance maritime security cooperation for counterterrorism and anti-piracy operations.”
Later, he met the Indian minister of shipping, Nitin Gadkari, and they discussed a broad spectrum of issues that encompassed developing a cruise tourism circuit between the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Indonesia, memoranda of understanding between Indian Maritime University and Indonesian institutes for maritime studies, enhancing shipping linkages between the two countries, training on lighthouse technology, development of navigational aids and others.
Cooperation for developing non-conventional fuels such as compressed natural gas and methanol for ships was also highlighted in the dialogue. Modi is expected to talk about strengthening security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region with the support of the “Quadrilateral,” a security partnership comprising India, Japan, the US and Australia. Since Indonesia is not a part of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, pledging support could uncover new vistas for the largest Southeast Asian country in the sectors of maritime and defense security.
In addition to these, other issues on the table could be sharing intelligence information and military expertise on terrorism, thwarting prevalent extremism, cybersecurity, counterterrorism efforts, curbing transnational organized crime, technical cooperation on railway and space technology, and strategies to contain China’s hegemonic spheres of influence in the region.
It is anticipated that Modi will pay a visit to majestic 9th-century monuments in Indonesia, the Hindu Prambanan temple and the largest Buddhist temple in the world Borobudur, both located near Yogyakarta, Central Java. That will put Indonesia in the right place at the right time to utilize cultural diplomacy and promote socio-cultural cooperation.
Indonesia in recent times has displayed unflinching support for Indian interests because of their dynamic Act East Policy and rising stature in international order. When Widodo visited Pakistan in January this year, he didn’t agree with Pakistan’s proposal of including a clause on “accusing India of crimes against humanity in Kashmir” while he was addressing a joint sitting of Parliament.
Also, Indonesia has audaciously supported India’s stand on the Kashmir issue at meetings of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which could prove to be a major catalyst for burgeoning relations between India and Indonesia. While Widodo has visited India twice, first on a state visit in December 2016, and then in January this year during the India-ASEAN Commemorative Summit, this will be Modi’s first official state visit to Indonesia.
Indonesian foreign-policy experts such as Gustavo Mendiolaza and Cherika Hardjakusumah have noted that Indonesia in contemporary times has revamped its foreign-policy vision and now reckons India as a major strategic partner that provides a plethora of economic opportunities. The mind-boggling question in front of India and Indonesia is: Can they revive their deep-rooted historical linkages and move further? Modi’s visit will answer this.