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Indonesia, India Plan to Develop Strategic Indian Ocean Port

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 Jakarta.

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.

Modi, 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.
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