Modi plans sea trip, Indonesia may give India access to port
New Delhi: Ahead of PMNarendra Modi’s first visit, Indonesia has hinted it might give Indian ships — including its naval vessels — access to a deep sea port in Sabang.
Speaking here on Thursday, Luhut Pandjaitan, maritime affairs minister in the Jokowi government, said, “India and Indonesia have started naval drills in 2017, but we can explore doing more between our coast guards. This will become even better when the Sabang seaport is established with India. Sabang port has depth of 40m, which is good even for submarines.”
PM Modi is expected to travel to Indonesia for a bilateral summit with President Joko Widodo in the next couple of weeks. Among his engagements, Modi is expected to announce an Indian hospital in Sabang, which is just over 700 km from Andaman & Nicobar islands. Luhut said the Jokowi government wanted India to invest in an economic zone there, which is not partiuclarly developed. There is speculation that Modi might undertake a sea journey to Sabang to highlight how close Indonesia is to India, but sources say defence and space would be areas of cooperation during his visit.
“Indian coast guard ships now make regular visits to Indonesian ports. The Indonesian side has expressed interest in getting commercial investment in the port of Sabang,” Gurjit Singh, former ambassador to Indonesia.
Questioned about Indonesia’s response to OBOR and China’s decision to station missiles on the disputed Spratlys in South China Sea, Luhut said it was a “sensitive matter”. He said they had raised the issue with the Chinese side, but “in a friendly manner.” Luhut said, “I spoke with my Chinese counterpart about the 9-dash line. They don’t deny Natuna island is ours. I ask why they are claiming South China Sea. They say they have historical claim.”
In fact, in a rare admission, the Indonesian minister, considered to be very close to Jokowi, described OBOR as a “Chinese proposal”. “We do not want to be controlled by OBOR. We would like it to link to our maritime policy, of global maritime fulcrum,” he said. He added that India-Indonesia relations are important for the balance of power in Asia.
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