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Next Indian Naval Outpost Likely To Be In Indonesia

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Jokowi Widodo are going to have close talks during a bilateral summit next month in Jakarta. It is not well appreciated by many that Indonesia is a very close neighbour of India. The distance from INDRA POINT on Nicobar to the nearest Indonesian Island is less than 30 km.

Therefore during his bilateral talks Modi is expected to assure Indonesia, all help to pursue economic development and also an independent foreign policy. There is likely to be talks on defence Cooperation and also in the area of Space Science.India-Indonesia relations are important for the balance of power in Asia.

Indonesia is ready to provide access to Indian Naval Ships to a deep sea port in Sabang. This indication was given by Luhut Pandjaitan, Maritime Affairs minister of Indonesia in a conference at New Delhi. He said India and Indonesia started naval drills in 2017, so now time had come to take the next step.

Now there should be more cooperation including between the two Coast Guards. The Minister said “ This will become even better when the Sabang seaport is established with India. Sabang port has a depth of 40 metres which is good even for submarines.”

As it is, Indian coast guard ships now make regular visits to Indonesian ports which emphasises the closeness between the two countries. The Indonesian side has expressed interest in getting commercial investment in the port of Sabang, which is the westernmost point of Indonesia. This port has a deep draft but only rudimentary facilities.

It may be noted that till date Indonesia has shown reluctance to join the OBOR and is also opposed to China’s decision to station missiles on the disputed Spratlys in the South of China Sea. Indonesia has raised the issue with the Chinese side.

The Maritime Minister said, “I spoke with my Chinese counterpart about the 9-dash line. They don’t deny that Natuna island is ours. But then the 200-mile EEZ is also ours and that goes beyond the line.

I ask why they are claiming the South of China Sea. They say they have a historical claim, its part of the sentiment of the mainland, and it was the route taken by the Chinese explorer Zheng He. I said if this is true, then, when Krakatoa exploded, Indonesian ash settled around the world including Beijing, and we could claim this.” After years of denying they had a problem with China’s claiming the seas and territory around, Indonesia renamed its sea the Natuna Sea.

The Indonesian minister described OBOR as a “ It is a Chinese proposal and We do not want to be controlled by OBOR. We would like it to link to our maritime policy, of a global maritime fulcrum.” Chinese premier Li Keqiang was also in Jakarta earlier this week pushing OBOR projects with the Jokowi government.

During the visit our Prime Minister is likely to announce an Indian hospital in Sambang, located just over 700 km from Andaman & Nicobar islands. The Indonesian government is keen that India should invest in an economic zone in that same area, which is not particularly developed.