Modi plans sea trip, In­done­sia may give In­dia ac­cess to port

The Times of India (Mumbai edition) - - TIMES NATION - In­drani.Bagchi @times­group.com

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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