India, Indonesia join hands to counter expansionist China

New Delhi : India and Indonesia will develop a naval port in Sabang, a strategic location on the tip of Sumatra island and at the entrance of the vital Malacca Straits. The move, which comes at a time when China is expanding its maritime footprint in the region, was the most significant decision among a series of other pacts the two sides signed after talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Joko Widodo during the PM’s first visit to Indonesia.

The two countries also agreed to step up defence and maritime cooperation, with both countries agreeing to align their national maritime policies — India’s Indo-Pacific policy with Indonesia’s policy of ‘global maritime fulcrum’. Modi announced a 30-day free visa for Indonesian citizens and invited the diaspora to travel to their country of origin to experience the ‘New India’.

“Many of you may never have been to India. I invite you all to come to India for the Kumbh Mela in Prayag next year,” Modi said. Both countries are finding convergence on the maritime front, largely due to fears of China’s expansionism. The joint statement also said they would negotiate the resolution of delimitation of maritime boundaries, which they said “should be based on the principles of international law including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

China has encroached on Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone with its ‘nine-dash-line’, to the extent that Indonesia has now renamed its sea the Natuna Sea. The two countries issued a separate document on a “Shared Vision of India-Indonesia Maritime Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific”, to showcase a joint point of view and a roadmap for cooperation in economic, defence and cultural fields.

It’s the first time India has worked out such a shared vision with any Asean country, outlining comprehensive areas of maritime cooperation and security architecture in the Indo-Pacific. The countries stressed the “importance of achieving a free, open, transparent, rulesbased, peaceful, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region, where sovereignty and territorial integrity, international law, , freedom of navigation and overflight, sustainable development and an open, free, fair and mutually beneficial trade and investment system are respected.”

That places their maritime policies on a different trajectory from China’s. When he was not flying kites with Jokowi, Modi visited the grand Istiqlal Mosque, the largest in south-east Asia, accompanied by Jokowi. Earlier, he visited the Arjuna Wijaya Chariot, which depicts a scene from the Mahabharata.

Source : TOI

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