Analyzing India-Indonesia relations
Analyzing India-Indonesia relations
Relation of India and Indonesia are centuries old. Indonesia finds mention in the religious epic Ramayana. Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam all came to Indonesia from India.Both countries share religious and cultural identities.
The Javanese language, the country’s second most common, stems in large part from Sanskrit.
Prambanan and the Borobudur temple compounds one Hindu, the other Buddhist, both built on the model of Gupta style around the ninth century in central Java.
Despite strong cultural and religious roots, relations are not limited to it;both countries are having good economic relations.
- Indonesia is India’s second largest trading partner in ASEAN
- Bilateral trade between India and Indonesia stands at 20 billion USD in 2015
- According to some estimates, volume of annual bilateral trade between India and Indonesia is set to touch a whopping USD 50 billion in next nine years.
- India is the largest buyer of crude palm oil from Indonesia.
- India’s FDI in Indonesia stands at 15 billion USD in the sectors like infrastructure, power, textile, steel and consumer goods.
- A large population of about 120,000 people with Indian origins currently lives in Indonesia, and about 10% of them are non-resident Indians expatriates.
The Udayana University of Bali has a strong department of Indian cultural and religious study.
So why despite such strong cultural ties,relations are not that strong?
- After Independence India maintained good relations with its Asian counterparts under Nehru.
- This phase of Nehruvian “Asianism” also found expression in the “Bandung spirit” of 1955.
- India also played a prominent role in the establishment of the Indonesian armed forces.
- But with the rise of cold war era, Asian solidarity perished.
- When India-China relations withered, Indonesia sided with China with the conclusion of a Friendship Treaty in 1961.
- Downward slope in relations is evident from the fact that Indonesia aided Pakistan during war with India in 1965.
- Tensions were further inflamed by India’s cordial relations with Malaya in the midst ofIndonesia’s Konfrontasi(confrontation) policy.
- Relations between India and Indonesia further deteriorated in the 1980s as Jakarta became concerned about Indian naval modernization, as Andaman and Nicobar Islands are approximately 80 nautical miles from the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
How relations normalized?
Relations began to normalize, as India started confidence building measures with Asian countries in 1990’s.
India took several steps like:-
- Participation in multilateral forums such as the ASEAN Regional Forum and CSCAP (Council for Security Cooperation in Asia-Pacific)
- Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation established in 1997, and the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium established in 2008, of which Indonesia is also a member.
- India began joint naval exercises with Indonesia off Surabaya in 1989 and in the Andaman Sea in 1991.
Both countries have also established several bilateral agreements like:-
- Foreign Office consultations since 2013,
- The Joint Defense Cooperation Committee set up in 2007,
- A New Strategic Partnership in 2005,
A Memorandum of Understanding on combating terrorism in 2004
Why good relation will benefit both countries
- Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago, in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
- It can potentially control virtually all the straits linking the southern Indian Ocean to the South China Sea.
- Andaman and Nicobar island of India are only 70 nautical miles from Sumatra island and Indonesia.
- India needs new strong partners in Asia to counter the influence of China in the Indo-Pacific region.
- Both countries have struggled to manage their religious, ethnic and linguistic diversity, leading to a string of separatist movements, occasional social unrest, and sporadic pogroms.
- Both countries can help each other with their shared experiences in dealing with these issues.
- Both countries have often expressed ambitions to surpass their respective region, which reflects in India’s looking beyond South Asia with its ‘Look East policy’ and with Indonesia sometimes seeking to look beyondASEAN centrality.
- India can team up with Indonesia to work towards security in the Indo-Pacific region.
- India could also learn lessons on tourism promotion from Indonesia — from Bali, for instance, where Indians rank high in the list of nationalities visiting that island.
Recent visit of Indonesian president to India
Recently Indonesian president Joko Widodo visited India. Some of the important decisions taken during this visit of Indonesian president to New Delhi are:-
- Boosting trade and investment: To boost trade and investment in the areas of oil and gas, renewable energy, information technology and pharmaceuticals
- Expansion of defence and maritime ties: To expand their defence and maritime security ties and resolved to deal with terrorism
- South China sea issue: On the issue of South China sea both countries said that the matter should be resolved peacefully
- MoUs signed: Two memoranda of understanding were signed to provide for cooperation in youth affairs and sports and standardization
- Illegal fishing:A joint communiqué on combating illegal and unregulated fishing was also agreed upon
Widodo’s visit has not only marked another step in India’s “Act East” policy of encouraging greater engagement with, and integration between, India and South-East Asia but has also signalled that the two large democracies in Asia are growing closer as authoritarian China grows more menacing and America’s future posture towards Asia continues to be mired in uncertainty.