Although defense cooperation between India and Indonesia isn’t quite as profound as some would like it to be, the two showed signs of deepening their naval cooperation earlier this week. Ind-Indo Corpat, a biannual joint coordinated patrol in international waters by both the Indian and Indonesian navies, might graduate to the scale of a joint exercise.
According to The Hindu, Indonesian submarine commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Amrin Rosihan noted that the India-Indonesia joint exercise would involve more vessels and “help develop interoperability and strengthen Navy-to-Navy ties.” Rosihan commands the Indonesian anti-submarine warfare ship KRI Sutanto which was docked at Port Blair in India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands as part of the MILAN-2014 multilateral exercise conducted by the Indian navy.
The Ind-Indo Corpat patrols are held every year in April and October and involve a “patrol of the seas against piracy, armed robbery, poaching, illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and human trafficking.”
India and Indonesia see eye-to-eye on a number of issues but their relationship remains undercapitalized. After years of cooperation within the Non-Alignment Movement, the relationship was transformed following Indonesian President Suharto’s resignation in 1998 and Indonesia’s subsequent transition to democracy. Following its democratic transition, Indonesia and India deepened their economic relationship. For India, approaching Indonesia was in line with its “Look-East” Policy that prioritized relations with East and Southeast Asian nations.
India and Indonesia have shared a strategic partnership since 2005, and have cooperated on security in the maritime domain for some time now. The two have patrolled the Strait of Malacca and India delivered aid to Indonesia’s Aceh region after the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
India and Indonesia stepped up their defense cooperation in 2012 when defense ministers AK Antony of India and Purnomo Yusgiantoro of Indonesia met and resolved to cooperate on counter-terrorism and maritime security. Back then, the two ministers had acknowledged the possibility of expanding the Corpat patrols intro full-fledged joint exercises. The Indian and Indonesian armies have conducted joint exercises on counter-terrorism and jungle warfare in the past and continue to cooperate.
Incidentally, news that India and Indonesia might conduct joint exercises in the eastern Indian Ocean comes right as China concluded a rare exercise out of the Sunda Strait, in the waters between Indonesia’s western coast and India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands. While India may be skeptical of Chinese activity in these waters, Indonesia’s relationship with China is quite nuanced.
China is Indonesia’s largest trading partner, and the two also share a strategic partnership that some in Indonesia are eager to expand. Additionally, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared his intention for a Treaty of Good Neighborliness, Friendship, and Cooperation between China and ASEAN in Jakarta.
So far, Indonesia has been able to manage and balance its relationships with New Delhi and Beijing independently – both Asian giants see it as a pivotal partner in Southeast Asia given its size, which is concomitant with its significance in regional affairs. The announcement of bilateral maritime exercises won’t tip this balance right away, but Indonesia may have to make some tough choices in its future.