Fri, Jun 08, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Modi tightens ASEAN security ties, balancing Chinese expansion

By Sumit Kumar

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a five-day visit to Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore from Tuesday to Saturday last week. During his visit to Indonesia, Modi and Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo discussed issues of bilateral, regional and global importance.

The two sides signed 15 memorandums of understanding in various fields, including defense, space technology, scientific and technological cooperation, and railways.

In a significant move to enhance the two countries’ bilateral ties, the two leaders announced the establishment of a New Strategic Comprehensive Partnership.

Undoubtedly, one of the essential foundation stones of the strategic partnership between New Delhi and Jakarta is their expanding security and military cooperation.

More importantly, while Indonesia last month agreed to give India economic and military access to the strategic island of Sabang — at the northern tip of Sumatra and close to the Malacca Strait — during Modi’s visit, he and Jokowi recognized the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight on the high seas, unimpeded lawful commerce and resolving maritime disputes by peaceful means.

The shift in Indonesia’s attitude to maritime cooperation with India is seen as very significant considering that for a long time, Jakarta was not supportive of the idea of fostering strategic alignment with New Delhi to antagonize Beijing.

Last month in New Delhi, Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan said that Indonesia launched its Global Maritime Fulcrum doctrine in 2014 to balance China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Indonesia and India are big enough that “we don’t have to lean toward any superpower, and this makes India a sensible partner for Indonesia,” he said.

For India, Indonesia’s strategic location is vital, as it controls the entry points to the Strait of Malacca, the main sea route between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, linking major Asia economies including India, China and Japan.

Thus cooperation with Indonesia would ensure freedom of navigation and sea communication, and allow it to effectively tackle the issues of piracy and terrorism in the region.

Chinese assertive behavior in the South China Sea and Beijing’s focus on increasing its naval prowess has also become an important reason for New Delhi to foster cooperation with Jakarta in the security area.

The two countries on Jan. 9 held their first security dialogue in New Delhi, which focused on enhancing bilateral cooperation in countering terrorism, terrorist financing, money laundering, arms smuggling, people trafficking and cybercrime.

During Modi’s visit, the two sides reiterated their commitment to their partnership in the Indian Ocean Rim Association to maintain peace and prosperity in the region.

The two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to defense cooperation with the signing of a bilateral defense cooperation agreement. The agreement is to further strengthen and renew the existing cooperation for the mutual benefit of the two countries and the region.

They also urged officials of both sides to expand mutually beneficial collaboration between their defense industries, such as joint production of equipment, technology transfer, technical assistance and capacity building, and sourcing of defense equipment.

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