Indonesia and India pledged to step up Defence
and Maritime Cooperation, with plans to develop a strategic Indonesian Naval
port in the Indian Ocean, the leaders of the two countries said after meeting
Indonesian President Joko Widodo met Indian Prime
Minister Narendra Modi to discuss, among other issues, developing
infrastructure and an economic zone at Sabang, on the tip of Sumatra island and
at the mouth of the Malacca Strait, one of the busiest shipping channels for
“India is a strategic defense partner...and we
will continue to advance our cooperation in developing infrastructure,
including at Sabang Island and the Andaman Islands,” Widodo told a news
conference after the meeting at the presidential palace. Analysts say the move
comes amid concerns over China’s rising maritime influence in the region, and
is part of Modi’s “Act East” policy of developing stronger ties with the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
“The India-ASEAN partnership can be a force to
guarantee peace and progress in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond,” Modi said.
Modi this year invited the leaders of all ten
ASEAN nations to attend New Delhi’s Republic Day parade, the biggest such
gathering of foreign leaders at the annual event.
There has been tension in Southeast Asia over the
disputed South China Sea, a busy waterway claimed in most part by China.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and
Vietnam also have conflicting claims in the area, through which about $3
trillion worth of sea-borne goods passes every year.
While not a claimant, Indonesia has clashed with
Beijing over fishing rights around the Natuna Islands and expanded its military
presence there. It has also renamed the Northern reaches of its exclusive
economic zone, to reassert its sovereignty.
Last week, Indonesia’s chief maritime affairs
minister, Luhut Pandjaitan, said the existing port at Sabang, which is 40
metres (131 ft) deep, could be developed to accommodate both commercial vessels
Indonesia’s transport minister told reporters
that Sabang would get a transshipment port that could be developed over two
Asked about Indian investment in Sabang, Indian
foreign ministry official said New Delhi was interested in helping build
infrastructure across Southeast Asia.
“There have been discussions about building
infrastructure, it’s not just seaports, but airports,” the Official said.
“There would be a lot of interest among Indian companies.”
Widodo and Modi also signed pacts on cooperation
in the pharmaceuticals and techonology industries.