India-Indonesia maritime cooperation an ocean of untapped potential

Team India Sentinels Wednesday 29th of May 2024 09:59 PM

New Delhi: India and Indonesia are two of the largest countries in Asia and both are poised to emerge as leading global actors in coming years.

With both nations being blessed with young demography and rapidly upskilling workforces, complemented by potent military capabilities, they are poised to emerge as significant regional and global powers – political and economic. 

Historically, the two countries have been deeply connected by cultural and social ties, as well as traditional trade routes.

In the current context, their shared maritime neighbourhood is among the most important and dynamic in the world – hosting vital shipping lanes as well as potential food and energy reserves. This region, however, also faces significant challenges from political and inimical actors, as well as natural disasters.

In this context, the importance of establishing a high level of maritime security in this region cannot be over-stated.

In order to identify an effective way forward, it would be prudent to understand the current contours of maritime cooperation between both countries and the areas for future cooperation.

Over the past few decades, India and Indonesia have worked together to enhance maritime security in the region.

In 2018, the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership was established between the two countries that includes defence cooperation as a key area for bilateral relations.

At the same time, the Shared Vision of India-Indonesia Maritime Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific was established, to guide future efforts towards optimal utilization of the region's potential. In recent years, there has been steady expansion in maritime cooperation between India and Indonesia.

The countries have signed joint port development agreements, boosted people to people interactions and expanded military cooperation efforts.

Last year, the maiden visit of an Indian naval submarine at Jakarta, while deployed in the South China Sea, sent a clear message to global audiences on the close bonhomie between New Delhi and Jakarta.

At the 7th India-Indonesia Joint Defence Cooperation Committee bilateral meeting in May 24, many collaborative projects and initiatives were discussed. These covered areas such as defence manufacturing, R&D, networks for maritime and coastal security, as well as increased information sharing.

In addition, potential exports of Indian defence equipment to Indonesia were also discussed.

The navies of India and Indonesia also undertake bi-annual coordinated patrols along their maritime borders. Till date both navies have undertaken more than 40 coordinated patrols in over two decades to jointly address common challenges.

Recently, in May this year a task force from the two navies undertook the first joint patrol of 2024, re-asserting the high level of mutual trust, interoperability and commitment to regional peace and security.

Also in May this year, India and Indonesia along with Australia engaged in Trilateral Maritime Security Workshop at Kochi. Discussions encompassing shared maritime challenges in the region and collaborative solution for the same were held during the workshop. It is easy to recognise that the leadership of both countries has understood that maritime cooperation would be mutually beneficial and have positive outcomes for the wider region as well.

India and Indonesia, with shared maritime area, face similar challenges in the maritime domain. To effectively maintain a sustained naval presence to deter maritime security threats, a collaborative approach by both countries would be critical for regional security.

Recently, domestic politics has received greater focus on both sides as Indonesia recently completed its national elections and India’s general elections are also in progress till early June 2024. It is imperative that the new governments on both sides devote greater focus and increase resource allocation towards collaborative projects in the next few years.  

A vital first step would be the conclusion of a maritime information sharing agreement between the two countries.

Similar agreements have been signed by New Delhi with most regional countries as well as global maritime security constructs, which has enabled better understanding and effective response to maritime security and safety incidents in the region. This would set a strong foundation for expanding joint security efforts at countering various security challenges in the region.

In particular - maritime piracy and armed robbery at sea, drug and gun running originating from disturbed regions in South East Asia as well as illegal human migration could be more effectively addressed by both nations through cooperative efforts.

The positive outcomes of such efforts would yield direct benefits not only for the two countries but for the entire region.

Another common trend for both countries is the focus on strengthening their defence industry and reducing risk of supply chain interruptions, based on the lessons learnt over the last few years.

The ongoing transformation of the India Defence industry, guided by the Atmanirbhar Bharat vision, would serve as a natural partner for Jakarta’s future plans in this sector.

Not only could the two countries partner in defence production, but could also collaborate to develop solutions optimised to their common requirements, which drive domestic economies and provide capabilities at scale.

In the near term, the two countries could also focus on resource and knowledge sharing for maintenance of existing inventory, where there is significant commonality as well.

As the two biggest democracies in Asia, with shared interests in regional peace and maritime security, it is imperative that India and Indonesia continue cooperating on these issues.

As global competition for pre-eminence in the Indo-Pacific intensifies, strong bilateral maritime security cooperation between New Delhi and Jakarta would ensure that the neighbourhood retains a positive maritime security environment.

In turn, this would facilitate greater economic growth in the region, including bilateral trade, enabling India and Indonesia to harness the vast, yet untapped, potential of joint efforts between the two countries.

Ancient civilisation in both countries thrived due to bilateral ties, and the future generations could also reap similar rewards, once the challenges of the present are effectively addressed, together.


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