The most encouraging signal to emerge out of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s trip to Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore was the one from Indonesia. The two historically friendly maritime neighbours have decided to strengthen their ties further in elevating bilateral relations to a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership”. From the early days of Sukarno in Jakarta and Jawaharlal Nerhu in New Delhi, the two have got along swimmingly. Today, Indonesia not only has the world’s largest Muslim population, but is also a leading economy in the region, and a democracy too with a moderate outlook. Given the commonality of interests, it’s up to the two to ensure that ties grow. The PM’s visit may have enhanced the mood as he seems to have hit it off with Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who told him that his grandson is named “Srinarendra”.
Of the 15 agreements signed with Indonesia, two key ones are in defence and space. Whenever India moves on its “Act East” policy, the elephant in the room is China. The Asean countries are wary, if not fearful, of China’s dominance and of its sensitivities in the Indo-Pacific region. That freedom of maritime passage was stressed as Indonesia and India agreed to a Joint Task Force to enhance port-related infrastructure in and around Sabang is significant. This is strategically located on Sumatra’s northern tip, near the Malacca Straits, and is not far from Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, headquarters of the tri-services command and base for our blue-water Navy. Greater military cooperation may just help take ties to an even higher level.