Indonesia and India pledged on Wednesday to step up defense 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 in
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 global trade.
“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 in a statement read in Hindi.
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.
who is making his first trip to Indonesia, is also set to visit the Istiqlal
mosque in the capital of the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country.