India-Indonesia Relations after President Jokowido’s Visit
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, popularly known as “Jokowi,” was on a two-day state visit to India on 12-13 December 2016. This was the first visit by an Indonesian President in the last six years and also the first bilateral talks since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Jokowi assumed the office in 2014. While Vice-President Hamid Ansari’s visit to Indonesia last year had emphasised India’s commitment to strengthen the relationship, President Jokowi’s visit focused on imparting vigour and momentum to the strategic partnership and shaping convergences to act as a force of peace, prosperity and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
Historically, India and Indonesia have shared cultural and religious ties. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are very famous in Indonesia. They are two largest Asian secular, multi-religious democracies. The two countries also have shared colonial experiences. Based on these linkages, the two countries laid the foundation for an enduring relationship between the two countries, which was soon symbolised by the great success of the Bandung Asian-African conference in 1955. Over the years New Delhi and Jakarta have not only deepened their relationship, but it has become all the more important in the fast changing the global and regional security-economic environment.
Security cooperation is an important aspect of the bilateral ties between India and Indonesia. For India, Indonesia’s strategic location is very vital, as it controls the entry points to Strait of Malacca, the main sea route between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, linking major Asia economies including India, China, Japan and others. Thus cooperation with Indonesia would ensure freedom navigation and sea communication, as well as to effectively tackle the issues of piracy and terrorism in the region. Chinese assertive behaviour in the South China Sea and its focus on improving its naval prowess has also assumed another important factor for New Delhi to foster cooperation with Jakarta in the security area.
For Indonesia, since President Joko Widodo has focused on transforming Indonesia into a “global maritime axis” and China continues to violate Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone in the waters off Nathuna Island, he sees a big role for India to play in this regard. It was precisely in this context that the two leaders recognised the importance of freedom of navigation and over flight on the high seas, unimpeded lawful commerce, as well as resolving maritime disputes by peaceful means.’’ This emphasis on peaceful resolution of disputes and respect for international law come in the face of China’s refusal of an international arbitration tribunal which had earlier ruled against China in a case with the Philippines about Chinese fishermen landing in what the tribunal ruled was Filipino waters.
While the two countries signed a defence agreement 2001, which was upgraded to the level of a strategic partnership in 2005, during President Jokowi’s visit, the two countries decided to include the Air Force officers for regular talks along with officers of their Armies and Naves and increase defence interactions. This will enable the two countries to develop better understanding of each other’s military functioning and deepen defence cooperation. They condemned acts of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations in the strongest terms, emphasising “zero tolerance” for acts of terror. The two leaders noted with great concern the growing menace of terrorism and violent extremism and its universal reach. They called upon all countries to implement the UNSC Resolution 1267 and other relevant resolutions designating terrorist entities. In turn, alignment with Indonesia in the counter-terrorism area will help India to put pressure on Pakistan to rein in terrorist organisations operating on its soil.
Economical and trade ties have significantly increased ever since the two countries signed a free-trade agreement in 2010. In fact, Indonesia is India’s second largest trading partner in ASEAN, with the trade volume being US$ 14 billion in 2015. Many big Indian companies including the Tatas, Jindal Steel & power and others have strong presence in Indonesia. As Indonesia is the largest economy in the ASEAN states, India believes that closer ties with Indonesia would strengthen its stature in this organisation and also in the East Asia Summit, which is a group of ASEAN-led 17 countries. Consequently, apart from economic benefits, cooperation with Indonesia is seen as an effort towards counterbalancing China’s raising clout in the region. It is this context that during the visit President Widodo’s consent for early implementation of India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement in Services & Investment, and finalisation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is seen as an important step. At a time when one of the main aims of the Modi government to attract foreign interments East and South East countries under India’s renounced Act East policy, the two countries asked the CEO’s Forum to identify new avenues of wider and deeper industry to industry engagement.
Both leaders reiterated support for the ongoing reform of the United Nations and its principal organs, including the Security Council. With Prime Minister Modi’s special focus on building up connectivity with Southeast Asia, the first direct flight between the two countries launched from Jakarta to Mumbai on 12th December will indeed help enhance people-to-people contacts between the two countries. New Delhi and Jakarta can also focus on starting flights connecting Bali and Yogyakarta with Varanasi and Puri. The two countries can also form multilateral forums with countries like the US and Japan who share interests in promoting a balance of power in their favour. With the visit of President JokoWi having infused a new momentum into the relationship, India and the Indonesia would further take efforts to realise the full potential of the relationship in the future.