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Indonesia likely to give India access to deep seaport in Sabang

Indonesia might give India access to a deep sea port in Sabang, including to its naval vessels opening up the possibility of permanent presence near the strategic Malacca Straits gateway to the Indian Ocean from the Pacific. 

 Addressing a Delhi audience on May 17th, Luhut Pandjaitan, the Maritime Affairs Minister in the Jokowi government, said, “India and Indonesia have started naval drills in 2017, but we can explore doing more between our coast guards. This will become even better when the Sabang seaport is established with India. Sabang port has a depth of 40 metres which is good even for submarines.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to travel to Indonesia for a bilateral summit with Joko Widodo in the next couple of weeks. Among his engagements, Modi is expected to announce an Indian hospital in Sambang, which is just over 700km from Nicobar Islands. 

The Indonesian government wanted India to invest in an economic zone in that same area, which is not particularly developed. Speculation are rife that Prime Minister Modi might undertake a sea journey to Sambang to highlight how close Indonesia is to India during his state visit to that country. Indications are that defense and space would be areas of cooperation during Modi’s forthcoming visit to Indonesia..

“Indian coast guard ships now make regular visits to Indonesian ports and emphasize the closeness between the two countries. The Indonesian side has expressed interest in getting commercial investment in the port of Sabang, which is the westernmost point of Indonesia, nearer to Nicobar islands. This port has a deep draft but rudimentary facilities.

The Indonesian Minister, considered to be very close country’s political leadership, described OBOR as a “Chinese proposal”. “We do not want to be controlled by OBOR. We would like it to link to our maritime policy, of a global maritime fulcrum.” Chinese premier Li Keqiang was in Jakarta earlier this week pushing OBOR projects with the Indonesian government. “India-Indonesia relations are important for the balance of power in Asia,” Luhut said.


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