New Delhi: India and Indonesia will soon hold a joint drill between their air forces as they seek to strengthen bilateral military ties amid the ongoing border tensions between New Delhi and Beijing.
“In terms of military cooperation, we have strengthened from coordinated patrol in the Andaman Sea, that has been going on at least for the past 17 years. We have army-to-army exercises, navy-to-navy, and soon we will start air force to air force” said Sidharto Reza Suryodipuro, outgoing Ambassador of Indonesia to India, in his address to the Ananta Aspen Centre Monday.
This is expected to send a strong signal to China at a time when New Delhi and Beijing are engaged in a bitter border standoff at the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh.
The envoy said there has been considerable strengthening of ties between both the countries at the level of governments in the last six years and the relationship got elevated to the level of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in 2018.
“India and Indonesia now have a shared vision of maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific,” the ambassador said.
On the issue of Quad countries — India, US, Japan and Australia — holding joint naval exercise, the envoy said, “I think countries would establish their layers of diplomacy based on how they look at their environment and each country’s perspective of the environment would be different.”
He also batted for the ongoing connectivity project between Aceh and Andaman, where joint patrolling has been going on, and said it needs strengthening.
“We would like to see cooperation in this and we hope it will materialise soon,” he added.
Suryodipuro also said Indonesia would like to enhance the trilateral cooperation between India, Australia and his country. He said soon the foreign ministers of these countries will meet to discuss this trilateral cooperation.
More needs to be done on trade ties
Suryodipuro said more needs to be done in order to boost trade and economic ties between both the countries.
He said before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic the two-way trade between both countries reached $20 billion, but out of this about $10 billion consists of palm oil and coal exports from Indonesia to India, while the remaining $10 billion is what is traded on both sides.
India has been also seeking access to Indonesian markets for its pharmaceutical produce, whereas Indonesia wanted larger investments in this sector.
“The (Indonesian) pharma companies produce enough for the Indonesia market, at the same time also seeks the competition to be limited to protect the market,” the envoy said.
However, he added, the situation has changed with the pandemic setting in. Now more and more Indian pharmaceutical firms are investing in Indonesia, he said.
Indonesia has also begun talking with Bharat Biotech to procure the Covid-19 vaccine from India.
Direct connectivity needed
Suryodipuro further said, “We are punching far below our weight in terms of the size of our countries… Indonesia is India’s largest neighbour after China. We need to build closer business-to-business relationships, universities-to-universities, think-thanks to think-tanks, people-to-people, we need to build this by setting up direct connectivity.”
He said this can be achieved not only by air-to-air connectivity, but by maritime connectivity.
“When it comes to maritime connectivity, we can have smaller ships. We are not talking about huge container vessels. But it can be direct between the coasts of India — Chennai or Kolkata — with the ports in Sumatra, Java, it does not have to be super cargo ships,” he stressed.
Suryodipuro said Indonesia would like to spearhead this effort between Aceh and Andaman.
“Now the situation in the region calls for greater Indian and Indonesian partnership, collaboration and will provide the basis for the region’s stability and prosperity, after all we are the largest and second-largest countries of the Indo-Pacific. So we’ll set the tone for that as well,” he added.