On June 23, Indian Navy ships arrived in Indonesia for a scheduled three-day port visit. The interaction once again put the spotlight on the India-Indonesia relationship, which has been advancing in recent years as New Delhi seeks to further boost its ties with Southeast Asian states.
As I have noted before, though India and Indonesia have a long historical relationship, strategic alignment has been a more recent development and has not been without its challenges as well. Over the past few years, under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has tried to boost cooperation with Southeast Asian states as part of its “Act East Policy,” a variation of the Look East Policy first formulated under Narasimha Rao back in 1991. Indonesia has been a priority country in that effort, including in the maritime domain more specifically as well (See: “The Future of India-Indonesia Defense Ties”).
This was demonstrated clearly in Modi’s recent visit to Indonesia ahead of his address at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore (See: “Trump’s Indo-Pacific Strategy Challenge in the Spotlight at 2018 Shangri-La Dialogue“). During that trip, as both he and President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo both agreed to elevate their ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership, there were also a number of maritime-related developments announced, including an agreement for India to develop the port of Sabang.
This week, India-Indonesia naval ties were the spotlight once again with another visit by Indian vessels. According to the Indian Navy, Eastern Fleet ships INS Shakti and INS Kamorta under the command of Rear Admiral Dinesh K Tripathi entered the Port of Makassar on June 23 for a three-day visit between the two sides designed to further strengthen relations and understanding between the two sides.
The two ships are on the last part of a broader two-month operational deployment covering Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific. The deployment, which begun on April 30 when they departed the port of Visakhapatnam, has included visits to several Southeast Asian countries including Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam as well as participation in the more recent iteration of the Malabar exercises – originally a U.S.-India bilateral exercise that has now been trilateralized to include Japan as well and could also eventually be made to include Australia amid ongoing discussions about the future of the so-called “Quad” (See: “The Malabar Exercises: An Emerging Platform for Indo-Pacific Cooperation?”).
According to the Indian Embassy in Jakarta, the ship’s visit to Makassar would involve a range of activities, including professional interactions, sports games, visits with Indonesian officials and people-to-people interactions. The embassy said the trip was a “fine demonstration of the operational reach and pursuit of India’s ‘Act East’ policy.”