India and Indonesia have shared two millennia of close cultural and commercial contacts. The Hindu, Buddhist and later Muslim faith traveled to Indonesia from the shores of India. The Indonesian folk art and dramas are based on stories from the great epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. The shared culture, colonial history and post-independence goals of political sovereignty, economic self-sufficiency, and independent foreign policy have a unifying effect on the bilateral relations.
For a long time that two nations have kept each other out of focus while determining their foreign policy, even though they have had converging strategic interests. Even under the present ruling governments, the nations have taken too long to reach out to each other. However, both the countries have shown willingness and intent to build a strong relationship with President Widodo’s visit to India being the first presidential visit from Indonesia to India in nearly six years. The areas of common concern and interest have been discussed below with the joint efforts made by both the countries.
The South China Sea
India and Indonesia both are not in agreement with China’s aggressive stance on the South China Sea and want the dispute to be resolved by peaceful means and in accordance with international law such as UNCLOS.
Both the countries do not have a direct stake in this dispute, yet they are concerned about China’s territorial expansion and its reluctance to abide by international laws and norms.
India and Indonesia want their nations to emerge as major maritime powers and ensure a stable maritime order in the region.
India’s concerns lie in the security of the sea lanes of communication in the Indo-Pacific region and Indonesia has been concerned about Chinese maritime intrusions near the Natuna islands and its claim to include the island chain in its territorial maps. Indonesia claims it to be a part of its exclusive economic zone.
Terrorism and Security
The two countries are also now moving towards cooperation in defense and security which will help in focussing on combating terrorism and organized crime.
They have also issued a joint statement which condemns terrorism in all forms and emphasizes on “zero tolerance” towards terrorism.
The statement has asked all nations to focus on the following:
Eliminating terrorist safe havens and infrastructure,
Disrupting terrorist networks and their financing channels, and
Stopping cross-border terrorism.
Called upon all countries to implement the UN Security Council Resolution 1267 (banning militant groups and their leaders) and other resolutions designating terrorist entities.
The two nations have also laid stress on the need to combat and eliminate illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing and recognized transnational organized fisheries crime.
Defense and Security
India and Indonesia have been gradually enhancing their security and political ties through the strategic partnership agreement signed in 2005.
This agreement also introduced the annual strategic dialogue between the two nations.
In 2006, the two countries ratified a defense cooperation agreement, focussing on areas of defense supplies, technology, and joint projects.
An extradition treaty and a mutual legal assistance treaty for gathering and exchanging information to enforce their laws have also been signed.
Other important features of the relationship between the two nations are the joint naval exercises and patrols and regular port calls by their respective navies.
India is also a major source of military hardware for Indonesia.
India and Indonesia have also decided to give a major boost to their trade and investment ties by focusing on the areas of oil and gas, renewable energy, information technology and pharmaceuticals.
It is expected that bilateral trade between the two may grow by four times in the next decade.
The importance of cooperation between these two countries is important due to the strategic location of these two. Indonesia’s location allows it to work effectively with India to ensure security in the sea lanes of communication between Europe, the Middle East, and South-East Asia. Together, they control the entry point from the Bay of Bengal to the Strait of Malacca.
However, the need of the hour is to ensure that the two nations speed up the progress of improving the ties. Even though, the two countries have shared cultural and historical links they have still been distant. One very major highlight of the poor quality relationship between the two countries was the lack of direct air connectivity between the two till this visit by the Indonesian President. This visit by Mr. Widodo has helped India take another step in its “Act East” policy. This will promote greater engagement and integration between India and South-East Asia.